Politics Summary: Friday, July 9th

Doctors will be given sole responsibility for overseeing front-line care to patients - with health authorities and primary care trusts being scrapped.

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Doctors will be given sole responsibility for overseeing front-line care to patients – with health authorities and primary care trusts being scrapped. £80 billion will be distributed to family GPs under the plan, to be published in a white paper next week, reports the Telegraph. Tens of thousands of jobs will be lost in the health service as a result.

The report says: “The Coalition hopes the new system will be less bureaucratic and give doctors and patients more control over treatment. GPs will also have to organise out-of-hours services, which may see family doctors offering 24-hour care once again. The decision represents a victory for Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary. He has been backed by David Cameron in his fight with the Treasury over his decision to give taxpayers’ cash directly to doctors… The reaction of GPs to the changes will be crucial if the Coalition is to avoid confrontation. Ministers will hope that they embrace the opportunity, but some are likely to oppose the moves.” Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned: “In transition to this new system there are some quite significant risks… Obviously it is going to take time to implement this and the PCTs at the moment are the people who keep the lid on the performance and financial management of the system.” Yesterday, Left Foot Forward analysed whether the Coalition’s cancer drugs policies were working.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is coming under increasing pressure over the decision to block the appointment of a gay cleric as bishop of Southwark. The Guardian reports that Rowan Williams is at the centre of a row between liberals and mainstream Anglicans “furious that the archbishop has once more failed to exert any leadership over mutinous forces threatening to split the church over the sensitive issue of homosexuality”. It reports: “Dr Jeffrey John, the dean of St Albans, was in the running for the senior position at Southwark until his name was leaked, enabling conservative clerics to stop the appointment. An embattled Williams has now launched an inquiry at Lambeth Palace to find out who divulged the name… John’s supporters called for David Cameron to demonstrate his gay-friendly credentials by overruling the Crown Nominations Commission and insisting that John’s name be considered further. They accused the archbishop of betraying his old friend a second time.” Giles Goddard, chair of the liberal Inclusive Church movement, himself a gay vicar in south London, said: “This is a disaster for the church – another example of shooting itself in the foot. It would be much better to have a more open system.”

Pressure is growing for non-dom peers to be stripped of their titles; despite being forced to resign from the House of Lords, five peers remain able to call themselves ‘Lord’ or ‘Baroness’. The Independent reports that they can continue to use the titles, prompting outrage from Labour MPs. John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, plans to bring in a bill in the House of Commons which would strip the five of their titles and will write to Nick Clegg urging him to make sure there is enough parliamentary time for his Bill to be debated. He said: “This is outrageous. It is quite extraordinary. It is a British title, so they should be in this country, paying taxes like everyone else or begging for the title to be taken off them. If it requires legislation, let’s legislate.” His colleague Paul Flynn added: “They should accept that they no longer have the right to those titles. Using them would not bring them any credit. It would bring them shame.” The report explains: “Once a peer, always a peer, is roughly the custom of the land. A peer could commit murder and go to prison for life, but while he was emptying the slops in his prison uniform, he would still be Your Lordship.”

Millions of people with private sector retirement schemes are set to see their pensions reduced by up to a quarter as a result of Government plans to change the way they are calculated. Pensions minister Steve Webb said there were plans to link pension payments to a lower measure of inflation, reports the Telegraph: “The move would reduce the burden on pension schemes and is expected to be introduced next year. It would be applied to all final salary pensions, as well as payments made by the Pension Protection Fund – a lifeboat fund for workers who have lost their pensions – and the Financial Assistance Scheme, a Government compensation scheme. It follows the Chancellor’s announcement in the emergency Budget that most public sector pensions would be linked to CPI, which will also potentially save the Government millions of pounds.” Mr Webb said: “The Government believes the CPI provides a more appropriate measure of pension recipients’ inflation experiences and is also consistent with the measure of inflation used by the Bank of England.” While Laith Khalaf, a pensions expert at financial firm Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Final salary schemes just got a break, but at the expense of their members. Millions will be out of pocket as a result of this change. The government is conducting a delicate balancing act between easing pressure on these schemes and protecting the interests of their members.”

And The Independent reports that millions of people are facing starvation in west Africa due to a severe lack of rainfall. Urgent aid is needed to avoid catastrophe in Niger, says the Indy, explaining: “Five times the size of the United Kingdom, Niger is one of the poorest nations on earth with child mortality worse than Afghanistan. The absence of regular rainfall throughout 2009 has led to poor harvests, lack of grazing for animals and food reserves exhausted. Hungry people have started adding ‘bitter’ berries to their diet – this is survival food, normally unpalatable but when starving, the unpalatable becomes welcome – essential. The tipping point, according to one expert is about a week away – 15 July. That is when the rainy season is expected. But the starving livestock may nibble away whatever green-shoots push through.” Ten major aid agencies launched an appeal yesterday, warning that “up to 10 million people across the eastern Sahel faced acute hunger” if action wasn’t taken; Niger is at the centre of this crisis, with half of its population – 7 million people – going hungry. The Disasters Emergency Committee’s Niger Appeal, where people can donate, adds: “A major food shortage hit West Africa in 2005 caused by severe droughts and a massive locust invasion which swept the area during the growing season and destroyed the harvest. The food shortage affected over eight million people in West Africa, leaving them at risk of severe hunger and malnutrition.”

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