I promised to write regular updates on the planned changes to the NHS so here we are.
Unison announced this week that it's planning legal action against the Government's plans to give a vast chunk of the NHS budget to GPs (abolishing PCTs) and effectively privatise hospitals by turning them into businesses that compete for money from GPs and can treat an unlimited number of private patients.
The coverage unions get from the media is undoubtedly overwhelmingly negative, as the age in which they were championed has been replaced by a society modelled on individual rather than community spirit. But it's this very shift in how our society thinks about itself that makes unions so vital as their strikes and legal actions, act as a worthy balance against Government plans that are often focused on profits over community.
Unison believes that the Government's consultation about its NHS white paper, which it is legally obliged to undertake, is unlawful. This is because Department of Health has already indicated that its plans are non-negotiable making its consultation irrelevant and unable to effect change. The Guardian reports that the day after the white paper was released in July: "Sir David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, wrote to NHS executives telling them to start work on the reforms "immediately".
What I didn't realise is that the NHS has a constitution of which the State's own website says: "No Government will be able to change the Constitution, without the full involvement of staff, patients and the public,"
Having read through the constitution, it does seem unbelievable that such sweeping changes can just be unilaterally imposed, especially as the more radical suggestions were not even mentioned in either the Tory or the Lib Dem election manifestos.
As an example, one of it's patient rights it outlined is: "The right to expect your local NHS to assess the health requirements of the local community and to commission and put in place the services to meet those needs". It goes on to say that this is the "responsibility of your local PCT". However as the Government plans to abolish PCTs it is clear that this right will be altered, at least in terms of who will be responsible for implementing it.
Moreover as of April 1st 2010, there was a new patient right which outlined that each NHS patient must be able to see a consultant within 18 weeks from referral by his or her GP. This right has already been abolished when Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced in July that waiting times were being axed as they were too bureaucratic.
So bravo to Unison for highlighting our right to question these NHS changes. If this radical white paper is the best way forward for our national NHS then why not explain the changes and the benefits and let doctors, nurses and the public have proper involvement in whether they should be implemented?
Has anyone yet been consulted over these changes? Have you seen a single poster, email, or TV appeal asking for your opinions? Fingers crossed this legal challenge slows down the implementation process so that we all have a chance to think about and campaign for an NHS that we all want, not just one that works the best for the Treasury coffers.