Government escapes rebellion by medics over NHS

Image caption The health bill is working its way through Parliament

The government appears to have escaped a rebellion by the medical establishment over its controversial NHS reforms in England.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges had been preparing to release a statement saying it could not support the health bill in its current form.

The academy represents 20 royal colleges, professional bodies that govern standards in the health service.

But it withdrew from the move after ministers made last-ditch phone calls.

A number of the larger colleges had also started having doubts about the wisdom of taking such a political stance - unlike the health unions the royal colleges tend to stay more neutral, partly due to their charitable status.

The statement was discussed at a meeting of the academy on Tuesday night.

It said: "The medical royal colleges and faculties of the academy continue to have significant concerns over a number of aspects of the health bill and are disappointed that more progress has not been made in directly addressing the issues we have raised.

"The academy and medical royal colleges are not able to support the bill as it currently stands.


"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 it soon became clear the Royal College of Surgeons was not prepared to put its name to the statement.

By Wednesday ministers, led by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, along with senior officials were telephoning the presidents of the colleges asking them to reconsider releasing the statement.

The provisional plan had been to publish the statement late on Wednesday morning, ahead of Prime Minister's questions.

But that did not happen. On Thursday night the academy held talks with the three major unions - the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives.

Those groups have already called for the bill to be scrapped.

But after the talks finished a joint statement was issued which said there had been a "useful exchange of information and an agreement to continue the dialogue".

The BBC now understands it is almost certain that the statement will not be released.

In the autumn of 2011, the college said it had serious concerns about the proposals, particularly over accountability, competition and training.

Officials from a number of the larger and most influential colleges have indicated to the BBC they were not prepared to take a tougher stance than that now.

If the statement had been released, it could have had a potentially devastating effect on the government's plans.

All attention would then have turned to the Lib Dems and whether they would support the bill when it returned to the Commons in the spring.

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