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NHS chiefs warn of 'risky' reforms

Health bosses are set to warn of closed hospitals, treatment rationing and lower standards of patient care as a result of the Government's controversial reforms of the NHS, it has been reported.

A report from the NHS Confederation - which represents the bulk of health service organisations, such as hospitals and primary care trusts - will describe the proposed transfer of commissioning power to GPs as "extraordinarily risky", reported The Observer.

The report is understood to accept the need for reform, but is critical of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley for failing to persuade patients or health professionals that his radical proposals will improve the NHS.

Under plans to be set out in a Health and Social Care Bill expected on Wednesday, Primary Care Trusts will be abolished in England and their responsibility for commissioning £80 billion worth of treatment and services - around 80% of the NHS budget - will be handed over to GPs.

According to The Observer, the NHS Confederation report will raise concern over the new system under which consortia of GPs will be able to send patients to whichever provider they judge will offer the best treatment, warning that this will force the NHS to shrink in order to make space for new healthcare providers.

The policy of "price competition", allowing hospitals to undercut one another to attract patients, poses a risk to standards of care, the report is expected to warn.

And it will add: "The absence of any compelling story about why the reforms are necessary or how they will translate into improved outcomes is of concern."

It is "extraordinarily risky" to undertake such a fundamental restructuring at a time when the NHS is being asked to save £20 billion by 2014/15 and is undergoing 45% cuts to managers, it is expected to say.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We have listened extensively to all views about our plans to modernise the NHS. And now, with thanks to some 6,000 responses, we have set out with clarity and with direction why and how we need to deliver long-lasting reform in the NHS.

"The Government has protected the NHS budget, but it must still simplify its structure and cut bureaucracy, which will release further savings to invest in care for patients. Modernisation of the NHS is a necessity, not an option. What we are proposing is a carefully staged transition, with the ever increasing engagement of patients and NHS staff."

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