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Hawking-backed fight against ‘unlawful’ NHS privatisation reaches High Court

Legal proceedings will begin today at the High Court with a campaign group challenging the government over plans to implement accountable care organisations (ACOs), which they claim is an attempt to increase private services operating in the NHS.

The JR4NHS group, founded by doctors and academics and strongly supported by world-renowned scientist Prof Stephen Hawking until his death earlier this year, are fighting against the creation of ACOs  because they argue they will act as private partnership bodies incorporating hospitals, community services, and councils.

The judicial review challenging these transformation plans will be heard in the High Court this week.

Campaign group 999 Call for the NHS are also concerned that the ACO contract is unlawful under current legislation and fear the plans would ‘Americanise’ the health service, lead to restrictions and denial of NHS care.

The ACO model of care has previously been implemented in the United States, with lessons being shared between New York and devolved UK health bodies, such as in Greater Manchester. But an analysis by the King’s Fund suggested that the move to this system would be “deeply unpopular” with the general public.

Alleged issues arisen due to private companies having stronger influence in the NHS include the bidding process, which is time-limited, meaning providers would have to bid for contracts every 10 years – creating great uncertainty on the quality and timescale of care for the UK population.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair at the BMA, which is supporting the judicial review, said the plans “have the potential to have a far-reaching negative impact on patients, doctors and the wider NHS workforce.”

“Such transformation plans sit outside of existing legislation and frameworks and risk handing an area’s entire NHS budget to private providers through competitive tendering. This brings with it all the problems associated with commissioning such companies to handle important public services,” Nagpaul added.

But in April, an NHS England spokesperson said this is a “mistaken effort which would frustrate the move to more integrated care between hospitals, mental health and community services.”

“The effect would be to fragment care and drive apart the very people who are now rightly trying to work more closely together on behalf of the patients they jointly serve,” they explained.

The court hearing is expected to last for two days.

 Image credit: Van Tine Dennis, PA Images

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