BMA (Silently) Backs NHS Bill Principles

The Council of the British Medical Association has agreed to support legislation which implements ‘strong and clear’ BMA policies on the NHS – which are reflected in the NHS (Reinstatement) Bill, laid before Parliament last week.  But the BMA remains silent on what should be a triumph of its own processes. 

On 11 March 2015, the BMA Council completed its examination of two sets of legislative proposals on the NHS set out in Private Member’s Bills before the House of Commons. The purpose of its examination was to analyse the NHS (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, presented by Labour MP Clive Efford and supported by 11 Labour MPs (the ‘Efford Bill’, which is about to lapse in its committee stage after weeks of filibustering by Tory MPs); and the proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill subsequently presented – on 11 March 2015 – as the NHS Bill by Green MP Caroline Lucas and supported by 11 Liberal Democrat, Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs; and then to compare the provisions of these Bills with current BMA policies.

BMA Council established a large working group to identify which proposals in the Bills were in line with and would further BMA policies. In response to the reports of that working group the Council unanimously agreed to support legislation which furthers implementation of strong and clear policies of the Association concerning:

  • Restoration of the Secretary of State’s duty:
    • to provide and secure provision of services in accordance with the National Health Service Act 2006 for the purpose of the comprehensive health service that it is his or her duty to promote, and
    • to provide listed services throughout England under section 3 of that Act.
  • Limits on the Secretary of State’s powers over operational matters and day-to-day running of the health service.
  • Abolition of the purchaser-provider split, the internal and external market and competition.
  • The ending of PFI in the NHS.
  • The exemption of the NHS from TTIP.
  • The moral unacceptability of the Immigration Health Charge.
  • Ensuring public accountability.
  • Supporting national terms and conditions for the NHS.

These closely reflect the principles of the NHS Bill put before Parliament ( ) and the principal points of the Campaign for the NHS Bill ( ). Doctors for the NHS supports the NHS Bill.

The BMA Council also unanimously insisted that where legislation to abolish the purchaser-provider split, the internal and external market and competition involves structural changes the legislation must be implemented in a flexible and devolved way to minimize concerns about potential disruption that might result from implementation of those policies.

But, to date, the BMA website news section has remained silent on this decision in what should be a critical and important area of policy. Despite reporting on Dr Clive Peedell’s lecture on 16 March and stating ‘Removing the commercial market in healthcare is affordable and will safeguard the future of the NHS, a BMA lecture heard’; and further reporting on 23 March  that ‘Parliamentary candidates in Bedford have set out their parties’ policies for health in the first of a series of local hustings organised by the BMA’. Two obvious opportunities to point to the BMA’s laudable decision in backing the principles of the NHS Bill. Principles which would safeguard the NHS from future fragmentation and cherry-picking privatisation: if only enough people get to hear about them.

Professor Allyson Pollock is Professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary, University of London; and Chair of the Campaign for the NHS Bill:

“The Representative Body and BMA Council have made themselves clear.  BMA members should be writing to their parliamentary candidates to ask them to support legislation in line with BMA members’ strong and clear policies.”

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