Anger as Lansley backs reforms opposed by GPs

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has failed the first test of his promise to let GPs lead NHS reforms, doctors say.

Mr Lansley: backed plans to centralise specialist maternity services across hospitals in Kent despite local GPs being against change

Mr Lansley this week backed plans to centralise specialist maternity services across hospitals in Kent, with Maidstone Hospital set to lose its consultant-led service.

A poll by the BMA’s Maidstone division earlier this year found that more than 90% of local GPs were against the changes.

BMA Maidstone spokesman Dr Paul Hobday told GP that Mr Lansley had ‘totally contradicted himself’ by backing the decision.

‘Mr Lansley now needs to answer how this is consistent with his White Paper putting GPs in charge of commissioning and promising patients "no decision about me without me",’ Dr Hobday said.

‘This is one of the first big tests of the policy and he’s failed it.’ Announcing the changes to maternity services so close to Christmas was a ‘cynical’ move to try to bury bad news, Dr Hobday added.

He said pledges made in a House of Commons debate in September over ‘four tests’ that would be applied before NHS reforms were pushed through now rang hollow.

Health minister Anne Milton set out the four points in reply after Conservative MP for Maidstone and the Weald Helen Grant raised concerns over the hospital reforms in the face of opposition from GPs and patients.

Ms Milton said: ‘First, it must have the support of GP commissioners. Secondly, the public must be fully involved, with public and patient engagement duly strengthened.

‘Thirdly, there must be greater clarity about the clinical evidence underpinning any proposals. Fourthly, any proposals should take into account the need to develop and support patient choice.’

A DoH spokeswoman said Mr Lansley had backed the changes in Kent after taking independent advice.

She added: ‘If, in future, GPs as commissioners assess that a need for services at Maidstone is unmet, then it will be their prerogative to seek to redesign and commission services.’

Glenn Douglas, chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, said: ‘These important changes make the very best use of the skills and expertise that exist within our clinical teams for patients and maintain the highest and safest standards of care for women and children.

‘The Secretary of State has agreed the plans should go ahead, and his decision is based on assurances from local and national experts.’

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