GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey, who was at the King's Fund in central London yesterday to hear shadow health secretary Andy Burnham launch Labour’s health policy review, said that primary care needed to develop before the party’s plans were realised.
Under Labour’s plans, social care and NHS commissioning budgets would be merged, giving councils greater control and downgrading CCGs to just an advisory role. Mr Burnham called for people with long-term conditions to be managed in primary care and said that GPs could take a more active role in helping to keep people out of hospitals.
The former health secretary also said that NHS organisations would have 'preferred provider' status under Labour, but that there was room for the private and voluntary sectors in the NHS, where they offered innovation.
The party will consult on its health policy plans at public events to be held across England from February to June and has called on GPs to get involved.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It is clearly at an early stage and we welcome the invitation to share our views with his team about his proposals.
‘GPs know very well that hospitals are good at transferring work into the community but rarely if ever transfer the resources to support the delivery of that work. If we are to see Labour's plan realised then we have to see more resource moved to support primary care development.
‘It was also interesting that he said CCGs would become advisory bodies to health and wellbeing boards who in turn would have a far bigger role in commissioning a unified health and social care budget. That would clearly be a big change for CCGs that are only just becoming statutory organisations - for the limited power they thought they were being given to be taken away so quickly.’
RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘It was a breath of fresh air to look at how we work together rather than competitively. It makes sense what he said, particularly on the major issue of an ageing society. What is driving that worry for a lot of people is the disconnect of health and social care. Having them in one big single organisation makes a lot of sense. Of course there is going to have to be a lot of detail worked out.
‘It makes sense to have the NHS as a preferred provider. On a personal level it is a direction that feels right. We don’t need another reorganisation and it would have to be done within existing structures.’
BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter, said: ‘Andy Burnham is asking exactly the right questions. The big problem is that these questions have to be looked at in the context of the current disruptive reorganisation of the NHS, and funding cuts, both of which make the rational planning of integrated health and social care very difficult. Making this vision work would not be easy without further significant change, and the last thing the NHS needs is another major reorganisation.
‘There are important questions about how a single budget would work in practice. It would require very effective co-ordination between the NHS, local government and other sources of funding, which would create new challenges.’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘The public will rightly be concerned that despite their promises, Labour plan a massive restructuring of the NHS which takes power away from the doctors and nurses who know their patients best and puts it in the hands of local politicians.
‘I welcome the fact that Labour have finally recognised the importance of integrated care, but they had 13 years to achieve this and failed to do so. In fact, the system they left was fragmented and focused on treating patients as a collection of conditions not as individuals.
‘In the last two years we have put patients at the heart of the NHS by allowing GPs, who understand the sometimes complex conditions of their patients, to commission services to meet their personal needs.’
Chief executive of the King's Fund, Professor Chris Ham, said: 'Andy Burnham's diagnosis of why the NHS and social care needs to change is the right one. The demands of an ageing population, changing burden of disease and rising patient expectations mean that fundamental change is needed.
'His prescription for change is ambitious and his vision of delivering integrated care, co-ordinated around the needs of the individual, will be widely welcomed. But it leaves a number of unanswered questions, not least how plans as radical as these could be implemented while keeping his promise not to embark on further structural change.
'We have argued that it is time to think differently about how to respond to the future challenges facing the NHS and social care. Andy Burnham has responded to the challenge to think differently, but the ideas he has articulated today leave many questions unanswered.'