Royal College of Nursing withdraws support for NHS reform amid private patient fears

'Increased' cap on private work one of a number of concerns for nurses

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Royal College of Midwives today comprehensively withdrew their support for the Health Bill amid claims that NHS services would suffer as foundation trust hospitals increase the amount of private work they carry out.

The RCN, which until now had not previously opposed the bill as a whole, said “serious concerns” expressed by its members about some aspects of it have not been addressed adequately by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Central to the College’s objection to the bill is a proposal to set a limit which would mean foundation trusts would be permitted to earn up to 49% of their income from private work.

RCN chief executive & general secretary Dr Peter Carter said the decision to oppose the bill is one which was “not taken lightly” but a number of concerns have prompted it to make its stance clear.

"Most recently, the announcement that the cap for private income for NHS hospitals would be 49% has left members with real fears that the needs of the market could come ahead of the needs of patients," Dr Carter said. "While we are not opposed to the principle of competition in the NHS, recent developments have shown that the balance between competition and quality has become skewed.”

Speaking to the BBC, Lansley said that particular aspect of the bill has been misunderstood by opponents to the reforms. He said that “technically” trusts have been able to earn any amount they choose from private work for some time. The introduction of the cap would in fact make it clear that their primary responsibility would be to treat NHS patients ahead of private ones, he claimed.

He said: “NHS trusts, of which there are 120, technically can have any private income and that's been true for years. The amendment was actually about making absolutely clear that the responsibility of any NHS organisation in the future was to provide NHS services. That that's their purpose, they can't compromise on that. If they have private activity it might supplement their income but it must not be at the expense of their responsibilities to deliver services for the NHS and to deliver for NHS patients.”

Shadow  Health Secretary Andy Burnham said he “really can’t see” how the Government can press ahead with reforms without the support of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Other professional bodies and trade unions have made their opposition to the bill clear over the past year.

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