NHS reforms: GPs losing faith, BBC poll suggests

Stethoscope GPs are taking charge of the majority of the NHS budget under the reforms

The number of GPs who believe that the government's health reforms in England will improve patient care is falling, a BBC poll suggests.

Just 12% agreed that putting GP-led groups in charge of the budget would mean patients saw a "noticeable" improvement.

That figure was 23% when a similar poll was carried out in September 2010.

A majority of the 814 GPs polled also believed there would be more rationing of care because of financial pressures.

In total, 83% said there would be an increase in rationing in their area.

Ministers have cited the financial challenges facing the health service as one of the reasons they have pushed ahead with the changes in the face of mounting opposition.

While 12% of family doctors agreed that GP-led commissioning - the buying and planning of services on a local level - would improve care, some 55% said they disagreed and 33% said they did not know whether or not it would.

The polling also asked about another controversial aspect of the reforms - the role of the private sector.


Asked about the role of private companies in the NHS, 87% agreed the changes set out in the health bill would lead to them having a bigger role.

The King's Fund, a health think tank, said the poll highlighted once again the challenge facing the government in carrying the NHS with it as it implemented the health reforms.

"GPs will be in the vanguard of this - their commitment is essential for implementing clinical commissioning, the government's big idea for ensuring that care meets the needs of patients," said chief executive Chris Ham.

"The public will judge the government's stewardship of the NHS on the basis of whether patient care improves, so ministers should be concerned that many GPs fear that care will get worse rather than better in the years ahead."

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, said the findings came as no surprise and reflected what doctors had been telling them directly.

"Increasingly, GPs are worrying that they will be blamed for making the hard decisions that may need to be made in order to meet the £20bn savings target set by the government. The government needs to be much more upfront with the public about the scale of savings that need to be made and why.

"If those who will have to deliver the latest health reforms are unconvinced and reluctant, the government should take notice of what they say."

April changes

In April next year the control of about £60bn of the NHS budget in England is due to pass to GP-led groups that will plan and buy most routine healthcare for their local community.


More than anyone else in the NHS, GPs are central to the government's plans for the NHS.

If you're a patient in England, your surgery will have agreed to work with others in your area. From April 2013, these GP-led groups - 240 of them - will be taking control of £60bn of the NHS budget.

So what GPs think matters, because they're essential to making this new system work.

This polling by ComRes suggests a deepening scepticism among GPs that putting them in charge will improve patient care.

Some believe they have been given too little power. Others are worried they're taking over as the NHS faces the lowest growth in its budget since the 1950s.

They will be taking over at a time of unprecedented financial pressure. The latest government statistics suggest the NHS is currently managing to meet all waiting targets and has found the savings needed in the last financial year. The polling for the BBC suggests considerable anxiety about what lies ahead.

Almost half of the GPs, 49%, thought the NHS would not be able to go on meeting the 18-week target for routine treatments. Just 22% thought that it would be possible. A similar picture emerged for A&E departments, with 42% agreeing the NHS would need to close or downgrade some in the next five years.

The health secretary Andrew Lansley said the Health and Social Care Act would hand power to GPs, put patients at the heart of the NHS, and reduce needless bureaucracy.

"Of course, every important reform to the NHS, under whatever government, has had its critics from within the system. But putting GPs in leadership positions in the NHS will mean they can improve services for their entire local population. Patients want doctors to make decisions about their care, not managers, and that is what our reforms will deliver."

Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary, said the findings were significant.

"Most GPs are clear that the NHS is going in the wrong direction and that the government's changes will make it worse not better. These results echo the concerns Labour has consistently raised and flatly contradict the reassurances given by the prime minister to get his Bill through."

The poll interviews were carried out by ComRes for the BBC between 21 and 30 March.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    If GPs have got sense they will employ the commissioners and financiers to work out the contracts with primary and secondary care allowing them to continue with what they are best at.... being doctors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Now we wait for the LibDems to tell us how they are improving things - insulting our intelligence and no doubt giving 'guarantees' about the future state of healthcare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Go to the States where Private Health Insurance is at the top of people's needs.My daughter has private insurance through work,but has to make her own contribution i.e. taking child to her GP 75 dollars.Most consultations are done over the phone or at medical drop-in centres at 50 dollars a time for basic advice and expensive prescriptions.Uninsured better not get sick,there is little help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "7. BobG

    ...However England voted the Tories in and are now reaping the whirlwind."

    That's the problem, BobG. We DIDN'T vote the Tories in. Example: I voted Lib Dem (and am sickened that I got the Tories).

    The Lib Dems will of course never get my vote again. But I wonder how many other votes they've lost? I wonder if they'll even survive this? I hope not. They don't deserve to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I thought the Government were supposed to represent the peoples wishes. If this was put to the vote it would immediately have been kicked out. The majority don't want it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    If I become ill, will I be able to borrow money from the Big Society Bank to pay for the treatment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    'Losing faith'?

    Only 12% feel positive.

    There comes a statistical point when that should read 'Have lost faith'!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The objective of health reform should be to put the doctors and consultants in charge. Administrators would be subservient to them.
    The reality is that the administrators have such job protection that cutting their numbers would be an extremely expensive process e.g. the reduction of 22 health boards in Wales to 8; protected salaries for 10 years for the redundant. But it has to be done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The hysteria about privatisation is nonsensical. Labour improved the NHS by allowing greater outsourcing to private companies - This is why outpatient waiting times came down. Most outpatient services in my area are contracted out to BUPA and the service is excellent. And, if you compare their staffing level vs throughput to NHS run services, the difference in efficiency is stark

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The government has privatised the NHS. GPs had not faith in this "reform" last year. Neither did the nurses. The British public should have done more to stand up to the Coalition.

    The tragedy is that, within the next 5-15 years, thanks to CAmeron and his pals, we'll be charged for using the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    The NHS has failed!

    Our family doctor is as incompetent as they come, couldn't even diagnose the heart-attack my mum had in front of her!

    Goodbye NHS, you started off well but then got ... you know ... crap!


  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Like all surveys, the secret is in how questions are phrased. It is very unlikely that the question relating to noticeable difference would ever receive a different response profile. Meaningless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Oh dear, here come the anarchists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Probably more likely to be worried about losing money, whilst patients are refused treatments deemed *too expensive*

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    the government has stated that the nhs is safe in their hands and that it will improve with these changes. if this is true then when it goes wrong they should resign. knowing how they now operatate this will not happen they will blame the doctors for mistakes made

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "GPs losing faith"

    Isn't it a little bit late now? The deal is already done - we're stuck with it. But luckily enough GPs were behind it to allow it to get pushed through. Cheers guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "GPs losing faith" - they're not the only ones.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Well done BBC, too little too late. However England voted the Tories in and are now reaping the whirlwind. Fortunately they have no say in health and almost no support in Scotland, and there is still a health service here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    All we can hope for is that this disaster can be modified and controlled at the coleface before it spells the ultimate end of the English NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Does anyone (who will not profit financially from privatisation) support handing tax payers money to rich shareholders to lower the quality of service?

    The rich get richer and the poor die more quickly; Tories rub their hands with glee


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