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NHS campaigners lose High Court challenge against Jeremy Hunt

The JR4NHS group had argued against the introduction of accountable care organisations, but Mr Justice Green ruled the policy is ‘lawful’.

Campaigners have lost a High Court challenge against Jeremy Hunt over plans they say will allow private companies to play a greater role in the NHS.

As the UK marked the 70th anniversary of the NHS on Thursday, Mr Justice Green dismissed a case brought against the Health Secretary by the JR4NHS group.

The 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”.

A judicial review by the four remaining claimants was heard over two days in May.

Lawyers for the group argued against the planned introduction of accountable care organisations (ACOs) which the campaigners said “could easily be” for-profit companies.

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

Rejecting their case, Mr Justice Green said the policy was “lawful” and that – since the NHS had decided to launch 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 the contracting agreements for the ACOs, which supporters say will help to better co-ordinate care and improve patient services.

The judicial review was supported by the British Medical Association (BMA).

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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