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NHS listening exercise leader will not recommend 'tokenism'

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The GP leading the government’s “listening exercise” on NHS reforms has told Nursing Times he recognises the need for varied clinical input into commissioning, but warns he wants to avoid “token” gestures.

Steve Field, former chair of the Royal College of GPs, was speaking about his work chairing the NHS Future Forum, which met for the first time yesterday.

The body, made up of around 40 figures from across the NHS and voluntary sector, is currently gathering information and views on the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill. It will issue recommendations on how it can be amended and clarified in early June.

Nursing Times is currently campaigning to get a nurse on the board of every GP consortium – the new bodies that will take over from primary care trusts.

Reiterating comments made to Nursing Times earlier this month, Professor Field said nurses and other professions must be involved in commissioning, but indicated he would not call for the bill to be changed to require nurses and hospital doctors to sit on consortia boards.

He said that over the coming weeks the forum would be working on how to ensure that the government’s reforms lead to more involvement from clinicians and patients.

He told Nursing Times: “Consortia will need to have clinical input from a variety of backgrounds – but I’m not into tokenism. It hasn’t worked in the past – it won’t work in the future.”

Professor Field emphasised the importance of involving the relevant clinicians in commissioning decisions, rather than simply specifying the composition of the consortia board.

He said: “It would be unrealistic to have every doctor from every medical specialty involved on a board.

“What I want to work out is: how do you write into an assurance process to ensure that all commissioning decisions involve the appropriate specialist or nurse?”

Professor Field’s comments echo a speech made by health secretary Andrew Lansley last month at a Florence Nightingale Foundation conference, where he also used the phrase “tokenistic” in relation to nurses on consortia boards.

Mr Lansley told delegates: “We do expect nurses, midwives and the allied health professions to be fully involved in how consortia go about their task. Why, then, don’t we insist on a formal nursing presence within GP consortia? If this engagement is so important, you may ask, then why isn’t it mandatory?

“Well, I think the danger with any mandatory arrangement is it can quickly become tokenistic,” he said.

However, Mr Lansley’s comments were made prior to the public “rebuke” he received from this month’s Royal College of Nursing annual congress over his reform plans.

The health select committee, led by influential MP and former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, has also recommended that consortia boards should be required by law to include a nurse and a hospital doctor, as well as other groups.

Sign our petition today to ensure nurses have a seat on consortia boards! Follow @Aseatontheboard on twitter follow for all the latest campaign news! 

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