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Doctors ‘hugely disappointed’ as High Court NHS challenge fails

The British Medical Association said current plans are ‘absolutely not in the best interests’ of patients or staff.

Doctors have said they are “hugely disappointed” following a High Court ruling on Jeremy Hunt’s plans which campaigners say will give private firms a greater role in the NHS.

A judicial review by campaign group JR4NHS against the introduction of accountable care organisations (ACOs) was rejected on Thursday, as the 70th anniversary of the health service was celebrated across the UK.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the representative body for doctors, said the plans are “absolutely not in the best interests” of either patients or staff.

The union has 160,000 members, about two-thirds of doctors in the UK.

The legal action was backed by Professor Stephen Hawking (Joe Giddens/PA)

A BMA spokesman said: “ACO’s have the potential to have a far-reaching negative impact on patients, doctors and the wider NHS workforce because they lack clarity and accountability in their development, they present a risk of privatisation of NHS services and the BMA is far from convinced that the Government will provide the level of NHS funding and investment required for them to work.

“We note that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care previously committed to holding a consultation and we hope that now gets under way without further delay.

“The BMA believes there is a need for genuine transparency and engagement in the consultation so that legitimate concerns about the creation of ACOs can be heard and taken into consideration.”

The JR4NHS group was founded by three doctors and a university professor and the legal action was backed by Professor Stephen Hawking until his death in March.

The renowned physicist had warned that introducing commercial companies to run parts of the health and social services would amount to an “attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS”.

The judicial review by the four remaining claimants, supported by the BMA, was heard over two days in May.

Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Health and Social Care rejected claims about ACOs as ‘irresponsible scaremongering’ (Neil Hall/PA)

Lawyers for the group argued against ACOs, saying they “could easily be” for-profit companies.

Rejecting their case, Mr Justice Green said the policy was lawful and that, since the NHS had launched a consultation, the details remain “work in progress”.

The judge said the campaigners will have an opportunity to make their arguments during the consultation and the Health Secretary will be “under a duty to consider them”.

He said Prof Hawking’s involvement in the case had been “not because of his fame as a physicist, but because of his position as a patient and person to whom health services were being provided”.

Mr Hunt’s Department of Health and Social Care rejected claims about ACOs as “irresponsible scaremongering”.

A consultation is due to be carried out on contracting agreements for the ACOs, which supporters say will help to better co-ordinate care and improve patient services.

An NHS England spokesman said: “The High Court has explicitly ruled that the NHS’s proposed contractual approach to developing integrated care is lawful.

“NHS England will now consult on the draft contract as previously promised.

“The mistaken legal challenge would have weakened the move to more integrated care by NHS staff rightly trying to work more closely together on behalf of the patients they serve.”

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