Potential reforms to give the Government more control over NHS England could be a “positive” step towards “joined-up care,” according to former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Reports suggest that ministers plan to centralise decision-making in the service and reduce the role of the private sector, giving Government the power to block the closure of hospitals and overrule bosses in what could be the biggest health reform for a decade.
Proposals could include powers to put fluoride in water, currently a decision made by councils, and ordering the NHS to prevent obesity, The Times reported, adding the plans could be formally announced within weeks.
It would reverse changes made by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act introduced by David Cameron’s government that gave clinicians control over budgets and encouraged competition with the private sector.
Mr Hunt said that health provision is now having to deal with the growth in older people as 2020 was the first year in history where across the world there were more over-65s than under-fives.
Now chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, he told BBC Breakfast: “What that means is that you need a lot more joined-up care.
“It is not just going to hospital to have your hip replaced, having that sorted out and going home again.
“It’s people who have got lots of things that need to be sorted out, using the health service many times during the course of the year and the structures need to be improved to make that possible.
“I think that is what these reforms are intended to do, so I think they could be very positive.”
Dr Fiona Lemmens, chair of the Liverpool NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, told Times Radio it would be a “challenge” for NHS reforms to be considered at the same time as the service deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
She added: “We should always be looking to improve. So continuous improvement is what I would be aiming for rather than massive overhauls.”
Increasing the amount of people who drink fluoridated water could help cut tooth decay and sidestep frustrations with local leaders who are not responsible for dental health and do not want to deal with the issue, the Times suggested.
Forced privatisation and competition within the NHS via tendering of contracts could also be dropped under the reforms, the newspaper added.
The aim would be to help influence what the NHS should prioritise and regain much of the day-to-day control which there had been before reforms in 2012 so there is accountability to the secretary of state, it was reported.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaks.
“The NHS set out the need for new legislation to support the changing health and care sector in the NHS Long Term Plan, and last summer the Health and Social Care Secretary outlined how we must apply the lessons of this pandemic as we continue to deliver this plan.
“From tackling bureaucracy to driving forward the integration of health and care services, we are rightly considering where changes need to be made to help us build back better.
“Full details will be set out in due course.”
An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS has come together to draw up practical proposals that will make it easier for those delivering health and care to work together to deliver the best possible care for patients, without some of the bureaucracy and fragmentation implicit in the 2012 Act.
“These proposals were set out publicly in the NHS Long Term Plan in 2019 and further developed last year, drawing on what the best local health systems are already doing.”