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Primary care: MPs slam govt plans

MPs have damned the government's latest health reforms, which they warn are ill-conceived and likely to adversely affect patient care.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt claims that merging primary care trusts (PCTs) will save £250 million on NHS administration. But a report from the Commons health select committee says this is a false economy which will destabilise already demoralised staff. The committee found it took an average of 18 months for organisations to recover from major restructuring and a further 18 months for any benefits to emerge from change. Yet this shake-up is happening only three years after existing PCTs were set up.

The report says: 'The cycle of perpetual change is not conducive to the successful provision and improvement of health services. Major restructuring should only be undertaken if there is an overwhelming argument in its favour; in this case there is not.' The committee also directed stinging criticism at plans to contract out some services, which it said could fragment community services and make it hard to provide 'joined-up care'. And it described the consultation process as 'insufficient and flawed'.

Sarah Bazin, chair of CSP Council, said: 'This report echoes the Society's own concerns about the government's appalling failure to properly consult over the future shape of PCTs.' Health service reforms won't be successful unless the government involves practitioners at the earliest stages of discussion, Sarah said, adding: 'Staff morale has been seriously affected by the plans ... patients deserve better.' She continued: 'Going forward, we would urge the government to rethink this agenda, demonstrate a commitment that PCTs will retain their provisioning role, and ensure that all healthcare workers and stakeholders are involved in any decisions made about the future of our health service.'

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