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BMA council chair warns against further NHS upheaval

BMA council chair Mark Porter has welcomed Labour’s aspiration of ‘whole-person’ care but warned that more NHS structural change would be ‘hugely disruptive’.

In response to shadow health secretary Andy Burnham’s speech today at the Labour Party conference, he said doctors had long called for closer integration of services within and beyond the NHS.

But Dr Porter added that this had been hampered by successive governments over many years, with the Health and Social Care Act moving further in a market-based direction.

The BMA council chair said it was not clear from Mr Burnham’s speech how he planned to achieve his aim of better integration of health, social care and mental healthcare.

‘Yet more, major structural change, would be hugely disruptive, and particularly when the NHS is likely to face considerable financial pressure for some time still to come,’ he declared.

‘It would be better to concentrate on reducing fragmentation by removing the artificial split between purchasers and providers of healthcare.’

The NHS’s ‘best hope’

In his speech, Mr Burnham maintained that Labour was ‘the best hope of the NHS’ and claimed it could be saved without another structural reorganisation.

He said: ‘I’ve never had any objection to involving doctors in commissioning. It’s the creation of a full-blown market I can’t accept.

‘So I don’t need new organisations. I will simply ask those I inherit to work differently. Not hospital against hospital or doctor against doctor. But working together, putting patients before profits.

‘For that to happen, I must repeal [prime minister David] Cameron’s market and restore the legal basis of a national, democratically accountable, collaborative health service.’

The former health secretary argued that as people became older, they developed a mix of social, mental and physical needs that were today met through three separate, fragmented systems.

He insisted: ‘We can get better results for people if we think of one budget, one system caring for the whole person — with councils and the NHS working closely together.

‘All options must be considered – including full integration of health and social care. We don’t have all the answers. But we have the ambition.’