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Royal Colleges continue NHS reform talks

By Jane Kirby

The Government appears to have escaped a major rebellion from influential Royal Colleges over its plans for overhauling the NHS.

The 20 Colleges that make up the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) have been divided over the strength of the stance they should take against the Health and Social Care Bill, currently going through Parliament.

A draft AoMRC statement following a meeting on Tuesday said the Colleges had "significant concerns" and could not support the Bill in its current form.

It said that "unless the proposals are modified, the Academy believes the Bill may widen rather than lessen health inequalities and that unnecessary competition will undermine the provision of high- quality integrated care to patients".

But this statement was never officially released to the media, with the AoMRC saying later there had been subsequent "extensive discussions" with ministers.

It is known that the Royal College of Surgeons and possibly others would not agree to calls for the Bill to be withdrawn.

If the statement had been released, it could have massively increased the pressure on the Government over the plans, which critics say lack clinical support.

Last night, the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the AoMRC held a joint meeting to discuss the way forward.

The BMA, the RCN and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have already moved to a position of outright opposition to the Bill and called for it to be withdrawn.

The Royal College of GPs has also said the Bill should be withdrawn, with a poll of its members last month finding more than 90% supported the College in proceeding with calls for the Bill to be scrapped.

But following last night's meeting, a joint statement would only say dialogue was continuing.

It said: "A number of Medical Royal Colleges, the BMA, the RCN and organisations representing other clinical professionals met today to discuss their approaches to the Health and Social Care Bill.

"There was a useful exchange of information and an agreement to continue the dialogue."

No further statement is planned at this stage.

Earlier yesterday, the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) announced that it would survey its members in the next few weeks after a motion was passed yesterday calling for the Bill to be withdrawn.

The FPH's position on the Bill - which is to engage with Government to bring about changes to the proposed legislation - has not changed.

However, all FPH members will now be surveyed in the next few weeks for their views, with results published on February 8 or 9.

While the Government has agreed to some concessions on the Bill, including a bigger role for hospital staff and nurses in making decisions, it has not been able to allay fears over an increased role for private companies in running the NHS.

As well as allowing more private companies to enter the market, NHS hospitals would be allowed to make up to 49% of their money from private patients.

As a result, most NHS trusts would be able to make at least 25 times more from private patients than they do at present, prompting fears of growing waiting lists for NHS patients - something the Government strenuously denies.

A critical report from MPs on the Health Committee earlier this week said the reforms were hindering the ability of the NHS to make the savings it needs to safeguard its future.

But Prime Minister David Cameron defended the reforms on Wednesday, saying they would improve the NHS.

On the ground, the infrastructure needed to implement the Bill is being put in place, with enough GPs having come forward to set up new management groups to cover 97% of the country.

Mr Cameron said there were 4,000 extra NHS doctors, 100,000 more patients treated, and in-patient and outpatient waiting times were lower since the coalition came to power in May 2010.

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