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On 19th March around 100 people ranging from GP’s and doctors to support staff to service users meet for the Leeds Hospital Alert public conference at St Chad’s Centre in Headingley to discuss the Coalition government’s new White Paper initiative to put GP consortiums in charge of NHS budgets.  The aims of the conference were to discuss the White Paper and its impacts, especially in Leeds, and to plan what Leeds Hospital Alert does next.

Michael Johnson, Leeds City Socialist Party

The morning session featured Samuel Forbes, a Business Manager of a local GP surgery. He explained the H3Plus GP consortium initiative, how it is different from existing forms of commissioning, what it’ll be responsible for in terms of treatment and how it’ll be accountable. The comments from the floor generally reflected a negative response to these plans particularly around whether there will be true accountability to patients and how, in the view of the room, the proposals are just an attempt at back door privatisation.

After this the conference broke into three groups to discuss the proposals impacts on three specific areas: Patient and Public Involvement, Adult Social Care, and NHS staffing implications.  After a short discussion the groups reported back three key points from the discussions. The Patient and Public Involvement raised that there needed to be dramatically better publicity of involvement groups, the need to make sure there is involvement in all services and that any involvement has a real role in agenda setting not just as a box ticking exercise.

The Adult Social Care group reported that they felt there is an important discussion to be had about how the cuts to local authority and the NHS interact, concerns about using ‘any willing provider’ and how the providers would be controlled, and the dangers of consortia leading to even more defined post code lotteries due to conflicting priorities.

The NHS Staffing Implications workshop asked the room to consider the effects on staffing levels and the loss of clinician support staff, the threats to terms and conditions and risks to specific, high risk services due to high profit treatments being priorities.

In the afternoon Dr Amanda Robinson, a local GP and head of Leeds Medical Association  (a branch of the British Medical Association) spoke on the risks (such as damage to doctor/ patient relationship, risk of privatisation, lack of clear information on important topics such as staff training, and possible conflicts between GPs) and the benefits (such as giving GPs leadership in re-developing services) the governments plans present. Then, surgeon Chris Bem spoke on the history of the NHS and his views of the philosophical and ideological nature on the plans presented in the government white paper.

The floor was then opened for discussion, which developed the discussion on the risks especially on the dangers of big business involvement in health care but also focussed on the need for both GPs and the public to outright reject these proposals before they are put into place and cannot be removed.

This lead into the final topic of discussion: what should Leeds Hospital Alert do next? The mood was predominately for increased publicity via leaflets, press releases and speakers at Leeds Against the Cuts events (such as the March 23rd budget day protest) to get more people aware of the dangers to the NHS and draw more people into the movement so that there can be a united public rejection of any attempts to bring in these changes.