The King’s Fund response to the announcement of a Health Bill in the Queen’s speech

Responding to the announcement of a Health Bill in today’s Queen’s Speech, The King’s Fund’s Director of Policy, Dr Anna Dixon, said:

‘The Health Bill and other announcements in today’s Queen’s Speech confirm that the NHS is embarking on a period of significant change.

‘Strengthening the role of doctors and the voice of patients will create some difficult dilemmas. For example, the desire to increase democratic accountability by electing local people to primary care trust boards will need to be reconciled with the powers of the Secretary of State and statutory bodies to appoint other board members, including the chief executive. In setting up an independent NHS board, careful thought will need to be given to the relationship between its responsibilities and those of ministers, who will remain accountable to parliament for NHS expenditure.

‘We welcome the acknowledgement of the critical role played by GPs within the NHS and the clear signal that changes are needed to improve the quality of general practice. If, as expected, these changes include transferring budgets to GPs, it will be important to learn from the previous experiences of GP-led commissioning in the United Kingdom and other countries to ensure it delivers benefits for patients and efficiency savings across the health system while ensuring accountability for public expenditure.

‘The emphasis on improving public health and tackling health inequalities, and the priority being given to this by the Secretary of State, is heartening. Whether or not the coalition government is able to tackle the economic and social determinants of poor health and reduce health inequalities will be a key test of whether it can work effectively across departmental boundaries – something that eluded its predecessors.

‘The prominence given to the commission on long-term care is also very positive. Its challenge will be to set out a comprehensive blueprint for reform capable of commanding support across the political spectrum. The government must then map out a clear timetable for implementation, including legislation in the 2011 Queen’s Speech.’