Doctors braced for NHS reforms

Patients will see "little difference" when the Government's controversial NHS reforms come into force later this year, a policy expert has said.

The Health and Social Care Act, which became law after a tortuous passage through Parliament, is expected to cost the taxpayer between £1.5 billion and £1.6 billion to implement.

But Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said when the reforms come into force on April 1 patients will not notice a great difference in services offered to them.

The main aims of the health reforms were to make the NHS more accountable to patients and to release frontline staff from excessive bureaucracy and top-down control.

One of the biggest changes is the move from primary care trusts (PCTs) to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which will be led by GPs and other clinicians who will take on responsibility for commissioning care. The move will see 212 CCGs replace 151 PCTs across England.

A new national NHS Commissioning Board is responsible for setting commissioning priorities for the groups and oversees England's NHS spending. For the year 2013/14 the Board is responsible for £95.6 billion of the health service's budget.

"On April 1st patients won't notice any great difference in the services available and that they receive," said Prof Black. "In essence, CCGs will commission care locally instead of PCTs - not that patients have even heard of such bodies. While it is hoped that commissioning has a stronger clinician involvement, the decisions made are unlikely to be strikingly different from the current ones because there isn't much room to manoeuvre."

But the Department of Health said that CCGs are already improving the care of patients. "Clinical Commissioning Groups are already improving people's health and they are making it easier for patients to access services," a spokesman said.

"The changes we've made also encourage better integration between health and social care services. We are putting those who know the needs of their patients in charge of their healthcare. Our reforms give doctors and nurses the power and the freedom to provide healthcare services that they know their local population need."

The NHS has been charged with making £20 billion in efficiency savings by 2015 - in the last year the health service made £5.8 billion in savings.