Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, due to return to the Lords next month, is looking less and less well. A poll of more than 2500 GPs carried out by the RCGP found that 98 per cent were in favour of rejecting the bill if the other Royal Colleges agreed. When Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron with these figures on Wednesday, the prime minister responded by claiming the reforms were not only supported but being implemented by one Dr Greg Conner, a GP from Miliband's Doncaster constituency. A spokesman for Doncaster Primary Care Trust later told GP newspaper that ‘Dr Conner was no longer chairman of the Doncaster clinical commissiong group and he had in fact left the area.’
There are even Tories who don’t like the bill. The Health Select Committee, chaired by the former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell, has criticised it for imposing structural changes on the NHS that make it worse, not better, at saving money:
The reorganisation process continues to complicate the push for efficiency gains. Although it may have facilitated savings in some cases, we heard that it more often creates disruption and distraction that hinders the ability of organisations to consider truly effective ways of reforming service delivery and releasing savings.
Meanwhile, the medical profession had at last got itself together to present an (almost) united front in opposition to the bill. The Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives last week joined the British Medical Association in calling for the bill to be withdrawn. And according to a report in the Guardian, all but one of the Medical Royal Colleges had come out in opposition. The Academy of the Medical Royal Colleges had drafted a statement that was to have been released on Wednesday, saying that the Bill, as it stands, ‘may widen rather than lessen health inequalities and that unnecessary competition will undermine the provision of high-quality integrated care to patients.’
The doctors' revolt was to have culminated last night in a summit meeting of the BMA, RCN and AOMRC, called by the BMA leader, Hamish Meldrum. But the AOMRC withdrew its statement after Lansley apparently made a series of desperate phone calls to the heads of several of the Royal Colleges, promising to act on their concerns.
With his usual grace and diplomacy, Lansley has responded to doctors' criticisms by insulting their leadership and comparing himself to Aneurin Bevan, as if destroying the NHS were an achievement equal to founding it. In a prepared speech delivered at the launch of a children's health initiative in Liverpool, Lansley quoted Bevan's remark that the BMA were 'politically poisoned people', and added:
Sometimes change is hard. Sometimes, you can’t expect unanimity. Sometimes the right thing to do is keep listening, keep making your case, keep calm.
But will he carry on?