Foundation Trusts Concern told the government last week (24 June 2003) that the proposals in the bill on foundation trusts “have not been tried or tested”. The group argued: “the very least [Health Secretary John Reid] could do is initiate a trial or pilot in a local area to see what the impact will be on patient care in the trust and surrounding areas.”
While the group – which includes the public sector union Unison, the GMB, and health sector groups such as the NHS Support Federation, Society of Radiographers, NHS Consultants Association and the Democratic Health Network – is not ideologically opposed to foundations trusts hospitals, it believes the current bill as drafted by the Department of Health contains “serious, significant flaws”.
The alliance claims that foundation trusts will lead to increased competition in the NHS as part of a commercial market, in which ‘the measure of success is how well hospitals compete against each other for patients’.
Foundation Trusts Concern also argues that government proposals will not improve accountability, since foundation trusts will define their own constituencies, trust members will be self-selecting, and trusts will be accountable to an independent regulator rather than the government.
Critics on the Labour backbenches and within the NHS had hoped that the government’s position would be tempered with the appointment of John Reid MP as health secretary, following the resignation of Alan Milburn MP.
But John Reid told the NHS Confederation annual conference in Glasgow last Friday that he would “maintain the direction on which we are already embarked”.
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, criticised the new health secretary’s support of foundation hospitals: ‘to say that patient health care will be provided more equally through market-style reforms is a contradiction.”
Jennings pointed out that a previous Labour NHS white paper dismantled the internal market introduced under the Conservatives because it was seen to create an unequal service.