Sunday, 12 February 2012

Memo to Andrew Lansley - How to save the Health Bill without changing it

The response to mounting opposition to the NHS Bill is not yet meeting the required standard. The concerns are far deeper than either political manoeuvring or self-preservation by empire-builders, although there are obviously elements of both. Before doing anything further if you stop and analyse the resistance you will find a common thread. It is that no-one understands how the reforms will actually get the NHS to a better place, and it is therefore causing fear rather than excitement. In effect it appears to be the fiddling while Rome burns. I have spoken to several GPs involved in new clinical commissioning groups who can see the logic in some of the arrangements but fear the funding will not support the needs of their patients and alongside that existing NHS commissioners are saying that the changes will do nothing to re-position the service to cope in 10 or more years time, that will need hard cash.

The Unofficial Big Society Green Paper ( has a full chapter on the NHS because of it's importance to us and your reforms may well drive efficiency but they have two glaring omissions. Firstly, they do not show how they are compatible with the future financial strains which demographics alone will place on healthcare and the funding of it. This leads GPs especially to be wary of being the gatekeepers of insufficient funding and as a result being the ones to tell patients that they will be left to die. Secondly, the reforms fail to demonstrate how they will protect the NHS against lowest common denominator services which will result from a totally free any willing provider system.

What is needed therefore is a sub-bill which enshrines the role of community-led social enterprise in the NHS and does so within a framework which ensures open competition whilst supporting the funding model through reinvestment of profit. Secondly, you need to address the whole system that funds health, pensions and social care from current day taxation. This system frightens the life out of me and will break at some point, leaving us like Greece. No amount of reform or doing more for less can save a system in which twice as many people need help as those paying for it and that is where we are headed.

The Green Paper talks at length about this issue but in a nutshell you can save the bill by two relatively simple actions, which it will be easy and beneficial for the coalition to support:

1. Commit to a system of competition in which all outputs are measured, not just the financial, and in which the state seeks a return of profit from providers. This will ensure that social enterprise becomes the main delivery vehicle for our healthcare and avoid the danger of back door privatisation.
2. Commit to a new system of funding, on a whole of life basis, which will guarantee that a standard set of treatments and social/pension benefits are available nationally to all those eligible. 

This will not only help financially, it will help voters to believe in your full support for the NHS and also help those inside it to believe that the reforms will not simply be used to squeeze the NHS to save cash. These are not nice to have bolt ons, they will save your Bill. They will underpin the modernisation of the NHS as well as transform the financial position of the country.

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