The NHS Alliance has warned the government against treating patients "as mere machines" following the prime minister's announcement yesterday of new screening tests for common diseases.
The Alliance said screening proposals "will gladden the hearts of many health professionals" who "have called for the NHS to become a health service rather than a sickness service", and it welcomed Gordon Brown's emphasis on personalised healthcare.
However, it said a "one-size-fits-all approach to screening ... would defeat its own object."
An Alliance spokesperson said it wanted to remind Department of Health officials "that a personal service is as much – perhaps more than – about relationships as it is about narrow definitions of choice of secondary care providers."
It said that, for many patients, especially those with long-term conditions, continuity of care is a necessity, and cited research showing the benefits of "a relationship of trust" between primary care clinicians and patients.
NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon said: "We must guard against creating a health system that regards its patients and its professionals as mere machines: sets of parts that can be switched on or off, with a plethora of different ports of call for different diseases and different parts of the body.
"It may give the patient more choice of provider, but it can too easily lead to inconsistent and disintegrated care. There is a danger that no one is truly accountable, no one has the patient's overall best interests in mind – or even knows the patient as a fellow human being – and costs inevitably spiral."
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"Micromanagement by politicians inevitably results in targeting statistics, not people. And what happens to those additional patients who are are discovered to be in need of treatment after they have been screened?" – Name and address supplied