Children's doctors join calls to drop health bill

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is calling on the government to scrap its NHS reform bill in England.

It joins several other medical bodies that have recently come out against the plans.

The move follows an online survey of RCPCH members.

The government says its changes will ensure that the health system works better for children.

This announcement adds to a late surge of opposition to the health bill from groups representing health staff. These include the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Nursing.

The RCPCH insists that it is not anti-reform, and that it has engaged consistently with the government over the proposals in the Health and Social Care Bill.

It also acknowledges that it has secured some changes, but it says these do not go far enough.

Opposition "hardening"

The college's president, Prof Terence Stephenson, was at Downing Street for talks earlier this week, where he told the Prime Minister that opposition to the bill was hardening.

The shift to outright opposition has been prompted by an online survey. Nearly 80% of members who took part wanted the bill to be withdrawn, though the response rate was just under 15%.

Announcing the decision, Prof Stephenson said a "substantial majority" of voting members felt the bill carried risks for children and young people.

"We've never supported this bill, but we have engaged with the government to try and make the best of it. But we're a membership organisation and paediatricians views have changed and hardened considerably and we've surveyed our membership and their view is that we should now call for withdrawal of the bill."

He warned that the bill could lead to the fragmentation of services.

"The main concern of paediatricians is competition, not that we're anti-competition, but for children with chronic, complex disabling diseases who need lots of doctors and nurses involved it's better that they get that all from one service rather than from multiple different services."

And he told the BBC: "We're not anti-reform. We've been saying for two years that we are struggling to run 220 emergency services for children in the UK.

"These are the things we need to be reforming now - the delivery of services to people.

"Grave situation"

The bill is coming under close scrutiny in parliament. Ministers will face calls to make further concessions in the next few weeks.

A Labour spokesperson said the decision by the RCPCH had increased the pressure on the Prime Minister.

"David Cameron is now faced with a grave situation. Even those he called to Downing Street on Monday to help him push through his plans are now turning against them. The Prime Minister must stop putting his political pride before the best interests of our NHS and drop this Bill."

In response to the RCPCH announcement, the health minister Simon Burns pointed to the turnout in the online poll. He insisted that the bill would improve services for children, young people and their families.

"The RCPCH said only last month that our focus on children's health provides a real opportunity to improve the health of children and young people around the country.

"They also welcomed the principles of greater integration and information about services, and moving decision making to the frontline."

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