GP says doctors have doubts about NHS reform

Fears that private hospitals will be able to corner the market in cut-price hip replacements and cataract operations have been expressed by a south Warwickshire GP.

Dr John Hancock, who has surgeries in Harbury and Bishops Itchington, agreed to talk to the Courier – and to air his concerns on Radio Four’s Today programme – on the government’s plan to axe primary care trusts by 2013.

Prime Minister David Cameron wants groups of GPs to band together and directly commission patient care.

In principle this could provide some of the £20 billion in NHS “efficiency savings” by cutting out the “middle-men” and having drugs and hospital operations funded from budgets given directly to individual surgeries.

But Dr Hancock, who has been in general practice for more than 40 years, said: “I didn’t come into medicine to make these sort of financial decisions.

“Like lots of my colleagues I am not in favour of this move and fear we’ll be asked to go for the cheapest option on operations like cataracts and hip replacements which could perhaps be obtained more cheaply in another area.

“Perhaps the private sector could top-slice operations that pay and leave the NHS to pick up the more complicated bits. This could bleed a lot of money away from the NHS which would be left with the more complicated, costly operations.

“And if something goes wrong with a hip replacement – or there are complications – the NHS would have to put it right.”

Dr Hancock, aged 67, admits he’s speaking out because he can afford to, being at the end of his career and currently working part-time.

But he is confident that his colleages in Harbury, Doctors Colin Snowdon and Jonathan Wilkinson – along with a majority of other GPs – share his concerns.

It was one of the reasons he agreed to take part in a live debate on Radio Four on Wednesday morning.

He told the Courier: “I know the NHS is not a bottomless pit and that someone’s got to count the pennies.

“And I’m never going to say the health service doesn’t need reform because we do evolve and there’s always room for improvement.

“Some Warwickshire GPs were willing to try a pilot scheme. But if you look at most patients’ answers to questionnaires, the PCT had been working quite splendidly.

“I decided somebody had to speak out because there was no mention of this major re-organisation in the government’s manifesto and we have already been re-organised so many times.”

With the country’s economy in its present state Dr Hanock is also puzzled by the need to throw money at what will inevitably be a costly reform.

He anticipates many former PCT managers simply be re-employed by GPs’ surgeries.

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