Professionals and patients alike fear that partially privatising the NHS will “destroy essential services,” the senior doctor charged with reviewing the controversial policy has said.
Professor Stephen Field warned late on Friday that public submissions had suggested the changes would be “destabilising.”
“If you had a free market, that would destroy essential services in very big hospitals but also might destroy the services that need to be provided in small hospitals,” he said.
Prof Field said his panel had not yet reached any conclusions, but his comments appeared to pour cold water on the Con-Dem scheme which would see state hospitals and private providers competing for taxpayer funds and patients.
A former chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Field was appointed in April to head the government’s NHS Future Forum in an attempt to deflect public anger over the sweeping reforms.
But popular opposition has kept growing, with rallies and petitions across the country.
On Saturday, 50 people in Cornwall marched through Truro’s city centre in protest, while in London Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone launched an online campaign to save the city’s health services.
Meanwhile a senior government adviser was caught out telling private providers the NHS would “be shown no mercy” by the coalition.
Left-wing blog PoliticalScrapbook.net has learned that David Cameron’s “kitchen cabinet” chief Mark Britnell had assured a private healthcare conference last December that the NHS would become “a state insurance provider, not a state deliverer.”
“The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years,” he told attendees at a “reform revolution” Q&A session.
Health workers’ unions responded with outrage. GMB officer Rehana Azam said Mr Britnell’s comments were a disgrace and urged the Liberal Democrats to “pull the plug.”
Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said after disastrous local election results on May 5 that he would veto the legislation if he was not satisfied with changes to the original plans.
But Labour’s shadow health secretary John Healey said his party had opposed the Bill from the start.
“The legislation as it stands will break up the health service and open up all NHS services to private companies,” he said.
A Department of Health spokesman said the policy was “not a free market” and that GPs would award contracts based on quality, not price.