Editorial: Labour sets CCGs a two-year challenge

There are just 55 days until England's PCTs hand over responsibilities to 211 CCGs at the beginning of April.

Yet last month, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham put a cat among the pigeons when he suggested that under a Labour administration, social care and NHS commissioning budgets would be merged, giving councils greater control and downgrading CCGs to a mere advisory role.

Watch an exclusive interview with Mr Burnham at the launch of a consultation on his proposals, at The King's Fund in central London, on our website GPonline.com, as well as footage of his 38-minute speech in full and the question and answer session with an audience (including GPs) afterwards.

GPs have already predicted that a Labour victory in a 2015 election and the imposition of such a policy could cause GPs involved in the work of CCGs to walk away, because of the loss of power.

Criticism of Labour's plans can be made equally of the coalition government's current arrangements: more resources need to be transferred out of hospitals to accompany the shift in workload required if primary care is to become the recipient.

However, Mr Burnham is right to suggest the demands of an ageing population, the changing burden of disease and rising patient expectations mean that fundamental change is needed.

But is it a reorganisation too far to take power away from GPs, with their unrivalled popularity among patients, and put it into the hands of local politicians?

The consultative nature of Mr Burnham's plans is to be welcomed. With an election likely to be two years away, now is exactly the time to start debate on such a radical policy switch.

It also puts GPs at the very heart of a dramatic policy divide between the current coalition government and Labour.

In addition, the Labour proposals lay down a challenge to the CCGs that take over from PCTs only 55 days from now: should they exceed expectation and deliver dramatic improvements for their local populations, who would then argue for the downgrading of their role?

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