Speaking for the first time since his appointment, David Nicholson sparked debate about the future of the health service in an interview with The Guardian last week.
He said there would be up to 60 ‘reconfigurations’ of NHS services, affecting each of England’s 10 SHAs. Most will be aimed at redesigning the NHS to improve care by concentrating key services in fewer hospitals.
Mr Nicholson believes that the public will back his plans as long as they are supported by doctors and the advantages of reform to the NHS were properly explained.
The aim is in the line with the primary care White Paper published in January which signalled a shift of work from secondary to primary care.
Mr Nicholson’s comments sparked anger from the Conservatives. Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, said: ‘The chief executive’s first message should be one of hope and opportunity but it is one of closures and cuts.
‘The interview is a frank admission that NHS deficits are going to force widespread closures in hospital services.’
However, the body that represents NHS managers sought to take the sting out of Mr Nicholson’s comments.
Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, refuted Mr Lansley’s claims that closures were the result of NHS deficits.
‘These changes in the way health services are configured locally would be necessary whether or not there were NHS deficits. Indeed in some cases the reason why trusts have run up deficits in the first place is that these decisions were not made earlier,’ he added.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Lawrence Buckman said: ‘This is a softening-up process to prepare people for further privatisation of the NHS. It is extremely worrying.’
A DoH spokesman said this ‘does not mean wholesale closures of district general hospitals but it does mean that NHS clinicians and managers need to work with local communities to decide on the best organisation of services for patients in their areas.’