Local campaign group opposes NHS merger

An NHS England consultation event (credit NHS England)
NHS England says there is no need to consult local people about plans to merge five clinical commissioning groups in North London (credit NHS England)

By Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Local campaigners are warning a major healthcare shake-up affecting Enfield is part of the “privatisation” of the NHS.

Members of a group called Defend Enfield NHS say a decision to merge the borough’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) with four neighbouring CCGs will lead to patient care being increasingly based on cost rather than need and more private firms being used for NHS contracts.

CCGs were set up in 2012 and can buy in services from private health companies as well as NHS providers. Enfield CCG is now merging with groups in Barnet, Islington, Camden and Haringey to form the giant North Central London CCG. This is part of creating an integrated care system (ICS) involving the NHS working closely with councils and other organisations to “help people live healthier lives for longer and stay out of hospital when they do not need to be there”, according to the NHS England website.

Defend Enfield NHS activist Martin Blanchard, a retired medical academic and NHS consultant, claims the new system would be designed to “keep people away from expensive care” such as GPs and A&E departments. He said: “The idea is to reduce spend as the population grows and keep people away from expensive care.”

Fellow campaigner Marion Judd, a former NHS physiotherapist, added: “Access to GPs is going to become more difficult. It will lead to patients needing operations such as hip replacements waiting much longer for treatment, placing pressure on them to consider taking out private health insurance to access earlier treatment.”

The campaigners believe the CCG merger is part of an ongoing privatisation of the NHS. Martin added: “NHS England has a list of registered organisations allowed to provide support to set up and run the ICSs. Out of 83 listed, only seven are NHS organisations. The rest are private companies and 23 are from the USA. The public has not been consulted about this – they are doing it behind our backs.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The single CCG will continue to work closely with local authorities, NHS providers, GPs, voluntary and community organisations at a borough level to deliver high-quality, accessible health and care services for residents, improve outcomes and reduce health inequalities across north London.

“Patients, service users, carers and residents will continue to be central to the development of plans at both the North Central London ICS level and borough-based integrated care partnership level.

“Patients and residents will continue to be represented on appropriate committees.”

The CCG merger has also been strongly criticised by Enfield Over 50s Forum.