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NHS listening tour a mere deception

The government has been accused of misleading the public by only pretending to listen to the critics of the NHS reforms while “ploughing on regardless”.

The government has promised that the useful suggestions ministers receive during an NHS “listening tour” around the country will be considered in the embattled shakeup under the Health and Social Care Bill.

Now the NHS chief is telling his staff that they should “maintain momentum” in line with the planned reforms regardless of the listening exercise implying that the tour is nothing more than a trick to ease criticisms.

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said in letters to his colleagues that they should stick to the formerly announced schedule for implementation of the key parts of the changes including devolution of services distribution to GP consortiums from April 2013.

In the letter, Nicholson stresses "very firmly that we need to continue to take reasonable steps to prepare for implementation and maintain momentum on the ground".

Following the revelation, Labour's shadow health secretary John Healey slammed the listening tours as a public relations stunt.

"This will do little to convince people that David Cameron's promise of a 'listening exercise' is anything other than a PR stunt. It is clear from this letter that the Department of Health is planning for the health bill to go through largely unchanged, and that the government is set to plough ahead with its NHS reorganisation regardless of what ministers hear in the next few weeks," Healey said.

In the letter dated April 13 was written on the very day Health Secretary Andrew Lansley followed suit on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying there would be “substantive changes” in the reforms plan.

Nicholson, however, promised changes "subject to the results of the listening exercise" though not to the most controversial and radical parts of the reform plans including scrapping the primary care trusts and giving their role to GP-led groups by April 2013 and changing hospital trusts to foundation trust by April 2014.

According to Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, the disclosure paint a “very confusing picture” of what the government if up to.

"Overall it is a very confusing picture. We have got a pause and things seem to be ploughing on. Next week we are going to have to ask for clarification. Otherwise it is going to continue the kind of view some people have, that this is a bit of a cynical exercise to take the heat out of the situation," Carter said.

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