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High Court rules in favour of divisive ACOs after months of campaigning

Campaigners have lost a High Court challenge against Jeremy Hunt’s plans which opponents claim will give private firms more power in the NHS.

The JR4NHS group, created by doctors and academics and supported by the late scientist Professor Stephen Hawking until his death earlier this year, fought against the creation of accountable care organisations (ACOs) in a lengthy legal battle until it ultimately reached the High Court in May.

The model of care, which has previously been used in the United States under President Obama’s health reforms, was adapted in the UK to describe arrangements to support more collaborative working between organisations. It consists of regional partnership bodies incorporating hospitals, community services, and councils.

Unlike in the US, however, the model does not necessarily involve private companies. But some ACOs can choose to buy in support and expertise from independent companies, for example to introduce IT systems. According to the King’s Fund, “there is nothing to suggest that accountable care will lead to private providers playing a bigger role in delivering clinical services than they do now.”

Rejecting JR4NHS challenge, Mr Justice Green said the plans were lawful and— following an NHS consultation— the details remain a work in progress. But the judge said campaigners will get the chance to make their argument during the consultation, and Hunt will be under a duty to consider them.

Opponents against the ACOs include campaign group 999 Call for the NHS, who fear that the plans would ‘Americanise’ the health service, and the general public: a King’s Fund survey suggested that the move to the system would be “deeply unpopular” with service users.

However, the Department of Health and Social Care has disagreed the claims about ACOs, labelling campaign arguments as “irresponsible scaremongering.”

Head of strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, said: “ACOs are one potential vehicle which trusts and their local partners may wish to explore to deliver more joined-up health and care services. Local systems need flexibility which will allow them to fund and deliver services based on the needs of people in their area.

“It is important that we consult nationally and locally about proposed changes to how NHS and care services are provided.

“We look forward to contributing to NHS England’s planned public consultation on the draft accountable care contract and hope the outcome of this leads to further clarity for trusts, patients and the public.”

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