Editorial - Time to listen and act on Health Bill concerns

'We're taking this time to pause, listen and reflect on how to improve our NHS modernisation plans.

'This is a genuine chance to make a difference. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation or the way things are working on the ground, those changes will be made.'

So says the 20-page government document Working together for a stronger NHS, published last week, as the coalition government belatedly spelt out its case for reforming the NHS. A genuine attempt to listen? Or a cosmetic exercise to explain why a popular NHS needs major surgery?

This week's GP reveals that Professor Steve Field, who will lead the Health Bill review, has won a prime minister's promise that the exercise will not just be cosmetic. Whatever your views on launching a listening exercise for a Bill already undergoing the legislative process, the pause is welcome.

First, it's recognition by government that it hasn't won the argument and work needs to be done to convince GPs of the merits of the Health Bill and change legislation where this proves impossible.

Second, it allows GPs in areas where practice-based commissioning is a success more time to evolve, pilot new ways of working and provide the government with the results it needs to show its plans can work.

The new role for Professor Field already looks set to test the relationship of the last two RCGP chairs. Professor Field, RCGP chairman until last year, memorably called for restraint ahead of the BMA's special representative meeting last month. Current RCGP chairwoman and GP columnist Dr Clare Gerada has been much more openly critical of the coalition government's reforms since succeeding Professor Field last year.

It's been interesting to listen to the GP reaction to Professor Field's emphasis on behind-the-scenes negotiation and Dr Gerada's more forthright style. Quite what will happen if they are pit against each other will be more interesting still.

What's most important, however, is that Professor Field and his team both listens to GPs' concerns - and acts on them.

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