Public services union Unison has launched a legal challenge to the government's proposed NHS reforms, which promise to create "the largest social enterprise sector in the world".
The union said health secretary Andrew Lansley’s white paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, was introduced without consultation and has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the government’s actions.
The paper promised to give NHS employees more power to set up their own social enterprises to provide healthcare, and to make NHS trusts more like social enterprises by turning them into foundation trusts.
Unison said Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, had not met a legal duty to consult the public on whether the proposals should go ahead, although there will be consultations on how they should be implemented.
Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: "The white paper contains sweeping changes to the NHS and how it should be run.
"The NHS constitution enshrines the principle that the public, staff and unions have an absolute right to be consulted. And that means not only on how the proposals are to be implemented, but also whether they should go ahead in the first place.
"The Department of Health’s refusal to recognise this clear and important legal duty leaves us no option but to issue legal proceedings as a matter of urgency."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The department's position is that its decisions on consultation are lawful and it will be defending the claim by Unison."
He said the government had already launched public consultations on specific elements of the white paper, and would carry out further consultation this year.