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    Up to a third of UK social class differences in health was probably caused by work 50 years ago. Since then, many hazardous jobs have been exported but new types of unhealthy work have emerged.
    Work can be bad for health but so is unemployment. The most disadvantaged suffer unemployment in recessions and poor-quality work during economic growth. Work in a safe and supportive environment benefits health.
    Chronic illness and disability often prevent obtaining such work, or lead to its loss. People with impairments should be employed for their abilities. Punitive ‘welfare to work’ policies damage health, cause stress and diminish self-respect.
    Profit-driven economic activity can damage health through pollution, environmental harm, unhealthy products and unhealthy lifestyles.
    Comprehensive occupational health services provide biological monitoring, employment rehabilitation, workplace clinical services and health promotion. They support workplace health and safety systems, identifying hazards, assessing risk, preventing occupational disease and supportively managing disability and sickness. They should also work with trade union health and safety representatives in the workplace.
    About a third of the workforce had a comprehensive occupational health service in the 1980s, a third had a partial service and a third had no service. 
    Most of the workforce today have no direct access to occupational health services.
    Occupational health services in the UK have never been statutory, but mostly employer-provided services. There have been campaigns to incorporate occupational health into the NHS, but by 1980 this was seen as medicalising the issue.
    But with no statutory duty on employers, occupational health services declined and were commercialised. Public ownership is essential to ensure accountability to workers’ health rather than to corporate interests.
    DiU (MPU) has often provided medical support to trade unions. Currently we offer solidarity and support through UNITE and the National Shop Stewards’ Network. We also liaise with the H&S representatives of other unions and the TUC.



    Doctors in UNITE (the Medical Practitioners’ Union) believes there should be National Occupational Health Services (NOHS) for England and devolved nations, including the following criteria:

    NOHS  should cover all workers, paid or unpaid.
    NOHS  should address occupational, environmental and commercial determinants of health.
    NOHS  would provide biological monitoring, employment rehabilitation, and health promotion, and support safety management. We will discuss later whether it should also provide clinical services at the workplace.
    NOHS  should normally be publicly provided, although where a satisfactory comprehensive occupational health service already exists in a particular workplace, and has the confidence of the trade unions, it could be publicly licensed and its role extended.
    NOHS  should be accountable to Parliament through a Minister for Industrial Health shared between DHSC, DWP and DBEIS.
    They should also be accountable to devolved Assemblies
    The existing national organisations for health and safety, employment of sick and disabled people, or control of pollution should be redesignated as part of the statutory comprehensive health service and should review ways to work together and fill gaps. This does not imply any major reorganisation.
    Locally NOHS should be controlled by workers (preferably through their trade unions), the appropriate regulatory agency (be that HSE or the local authority), consumer representatives and local communities. In a previous policy statement some years ago, we advocated joint control by employers, expert regulators and trade unions/ communities/ consumers, as that fitted with the tripartite model of health and safety current at the time. However, that model has not proved robust so we now feel NOHS must be controlled by those it serves.
    Professional independence is central.
    The issue of funding will be raised. In a previous statement we said this needs to come from employers, but funding from general taxation would enhance independence so increases in corporate tax would be better. As health services have a Keynesian multiplier in excess of the figure at which they become self-funding, it may actually not be an issue. At a Keynesian multiplier of 2.5, £1 spent generates £2.50 of growth which generates £1 of tax. Keynesian multipliers for health, education, welfare, recreation and cultural services, care, and social protection are significantly in excess of that – about 4.32 for health – implying that spending reduces the Government deficit.
    In smaller and medium sized workplaces, NOHS would be provided on a group basis. For the smallest workplaces (such as a corner shop) it might be provided by the kind of neighbourhood public health system which we have advocated in our paper “Public Health and Primary Care”.
    In creating safe and healthy systems of work and in biological monitoring NOHS would feed into a workplace health and safety system which managed the workplace environment, ensured safe systems of work and supported a supportive management of disability and sickness. This system must extend to contractors and volunteers as well as employees.
    NOHS and the workplace health and safety system must address stress at work not by victim-blaming “stress management” terms but through the factors in the workplace environment which we described earlier such as autonomy, social networking, training and resourcing of responsibilities, pleasant environments and work/life balance.
    There has been much debate about whether occupational health should also provide clinical services at the workplace. This must not dominate and take occupational health staff away from other roles. Many services described as “partial” in 1980 consisted of a factory nurse providing mainly clinical care. This led to doubts about the appropriateness of a clinical role. However, the workplace is a convenient place to provide certain types of health care, including screening, blood pressure measurement, stress counselling and treatment of minor injuries or minor illnesses manifesting at work. There needs to be a system for providing the simple front-line healthcare that in many countries would be provided by a “barefoot doctor” or “community health worker”. This should be planned on a universal basis, so as not to exclude retired or unemployed people, but for those who spend time at a workplace, either as an employee, a contractor or a voluntary worker, clinical care at the workplace could sensibly be a part. In providing such clinical services at the workplace NOHS would be linked to the NHS.
    In employment rehabilitation, NOHS would be linked to a Work and Health Service which would take over the disability functions of the DWP, would be part of the NHS (New Zealand is an interesting model here) and would offer employment-focused rehabilitation. Such services were previously operated by EMAS, by Employment Rehabilitation Centres and by Remploy but were inadequately resourced and only operated for the most severely disabled people – at the time we described it as “an excellent icing on a mouldy cake”. Government then shifted the function into a “welfare to work” model which operated too late in the process, missing the opportunity to retain people in work. Both of these systems were separate from the NHS clinical care of the patient, in which work needs to be a central factor.
    In addressing the environmental and commercial determinants of health NOHS would be linked to the public health system
    NOHS would have access to all levels of management and of regulation.
    NOHS needs specialist support from the NHS, laboratory services, environmental services, HSE, public health and academic institutions.
    NOHS should be part of the statutory health service. The 1948-74 terminology in which the statutory health service was called “the NHS” should be restored. Even with current terminology there are services NOHS should provide for the NHS, especially front-line health advice, health promotion and employment rehabilitation. NHS bodies may act as local providers of NOHS in some areas.

    https://doctorsinunite.com/news/

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    The news that Sir Simon Stevens was standing down from his post as NHS England Chief Executive in July prompted some remarkable tributes from the Health Service Journal (HSJ), even by own standards. The editorial said that Stevens had managed to save the health service on no less than three occasions and has been the most important figure in NHS history since Aneurin Bevan. It also said that Stevens was “the greatest strategic health policy thinker of his generation”, and in this point at least the journal is accurate.

    STRATEGIC THINKING
    Back in May 2004 the Guardian’s John Carvel asked with regard to Stevens: “Why does a bright young man who has probably had more influence on NHS policy over the past seven years than anyone else in Britain decide to quit the public service to work for a $28bn US healthcare corporation intent on aggressive expansion into a new NHS market”? Indeed, Carvel thought that “If he had gone back into NHS management, he could have been running the whole shooting match after two or three more moves”.

    At the time Steven’s move did appear odd as UnitedHealth’s – his new employer and the largest health insurer in the world – anticipated role within the NHS was thought to be marginal at best. It only ran two GP practices in Derbyshire and a case management programme for elderly people. But by 2007 Stevens’ former colleagues had given the green light to 14 companies, including United and other US insurers, to bid for potentially much bigger contracts from primary care trusts providing data analysis and research, giving PCTs a clearer idea of how to manage patients with chronic condition.

    However, as the Guardian pointed out, “their role may be bigger than that. Companies may also be invited in to act as middlemen, negotiating with hospitals on the trusts’ behalf to reduce costs, ushering in the prospect that some patients may find their care plan managed not by a doctor but by an American insurance company”.

    While this programme – the FESC – proved a little premature, it offers much of the key to Stevens’ strategy. Transnational capital was in the early stages of creating a global market in healthcare and adopting standardized organizational formats from which the greatest profit could be extracted. As this process was US-led, it was inevitable that its dominant and most profitable format, that of Managed Care, would be adopted as the guiding template, and Stevens’ move to Minneapolis was in part to familiarize himself more fully with the working of this system and with its leading participants.

    It was also, as became evident, to locate himself as a major player within this wider market creation, and to bring English healthcare into its framework.

    US ‘REFORM’
    The focus of Stevens’ early work in the US was Managed Care’s applicability within public programmes, and in 2007 he became chief executive of Ovations, United’s division providing insurance packages for older patients, and which accounted for over 1/3 of its revenue. It also included Medicare Advantage, the private sector management of the state-funded programme for the over-sixties; a programme which had been heavily criticised for excessive administration costs, its evolution into a multibillion-dollar subsidy for private companies, as well as the insurer’s monopoly within certain states.

    Indeed, the scale of profiteering within Medicare Advantage, and within the US system in general, produced considerable clamour for reform. In 2007, Stevens told the Guardian, “For all its problems, there is often an ability in the States to innovate faster and really test new models of care. This is an exciting time in health reform in the US – there’s a real sense that there will be meaningful change here in the next few years”.

    But this was nonsense. Any sense of global market creation would be fatally undermined if Managed Care was to be replaced by single payer – a national system that would eradicate the need for insurers – on its home ground, and every effort was made to make sure this didn’t happen. Indeed, United, and Stevens himself, played significant roles not only in destroying single payer but ensuring that the position of the giant insurers was strengthened; in large achieved by taking greater control of Medicare, Medicaid and the new market exchanges, to the extent that within a few years these programmes had become the main artery of profits.

    GLOBAL CONCERNS
    With the home territory secured, United, and Stevens, began to apply themselves more fully to global market formation.

    In 2009 Stevens was also charged with managing United’s international operations, growth and M&A in 123 countries, including North America, Europe, and the Middle East. One of his first tasks was helping set up, in 2011, a high-level trade lobby group, the Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness (AHC), which wanted “the Office of the US Trade Representative, acting through the World Trade Organisation, to force other nations to open up their national health systems to US for-profit insurers, hospitals, professionals, medical device makers, pharmaceutical firms, IT companies and other investor-owned firms”.

    However, it makes little sense to open up national systems unless these conform to standardized templates. A year later, Stevens was helping to pursue this aim, by acting as Project Steward within the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) year-long project on Sustainable Health Systems. Co-organized with the leading US consultancy, McKinsey, workshops held in New York, Berlin, Istanbul, Tianjin, Madrid, Basel, the Hague, and London were, according to the WEF, “remarkable in their consistency of vision”, advocating new care models with delivery from “capital-light settings” using “leveraged talent models” and “low-cost channels, such as home-based models”.

    In ‘Health Incorporated’, undoubtedly the WEF’s scenario of choice, the boundaries of the health industry would be redefined. “Corporations provide new products and services as markets liberalize, governments cut back on public services and a new sense of conditional solidarity emerges”. Further, “Health schemes and insurance markets boom as people seek to cover their health costs. Governments, meanwhile, focus on regulating large integrated health providers in a complex expanding global marketplace”.

    The final part of the jigsaw was applying these structures within the English NHS, and Stevens’ policy formation over the following years – the Five Year Forward View, the New Care Models Programme, the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships, and, ultimately, the 42 regional-scale Integrated Care Systems – must be seen entirely within this context. With, for example, UnitedHealth “sitting within the ICS in Somerset and acting as the engine room” of transformation, and with Centene playing the same role in Nottingham, such relationships will be pursued in as many ICSs as possible. The bulk of the English policy community is firmly behind this and as yet the process only requires legal ratification.

    CONCLUSION
    This is Stevens’ legacy: that of helping to create a global regime of accumulation, and situating English healthcare within that. In this, and here we must agree with the HSJ, he has proved remarkably successful. Rather than viewing Stevens as unique, however, he should instead be seen as an exemplar of a widespread phenomenon, as throughout his tenure with NHSE, for example, he continued to work with the World Economic Forum on its Executive Board of the Value in Healthcare Coalition, alongside CEO’s from Humana, Kaiser Permanente, Takeda, and several others, to further the aims of transnational capitalism. But in terms of developing and promoting the central tenets of the NHS – those of universality, equity, and indeed ‘freedom from fear’ – he is as far removed from Aneurin Bevan as you can get.

    References

  • https://www.hsj.co.uk/policy-and-regulation/stevens-has-been-the-most-important-figure-in-nhs-history-since-bevan/7029999.article
  • https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/may/26/nhs2000.health
  • https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2007/nov/11/uk.publicservices
  • The Framework for Procuring External Support for Commissioning. This was set up by Mark Britnell, then the Department of Health’s director general of commissioning and system management, and now short-listed to be Stevens’ successor as NHSE CEO. The policy community clearly
    expects some form of continuity.
  • See for example: https://pnhp.org/news/the-health-insurers-have-already-won/
  • Hellander, I. ‘Health firms’ proposal: Use trade rules to force other nations to import our failed “health ecosystem”’. Physicians For a National Health Program, 4 October 2011.
  • http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_SustainableHealthSystems_Report_2013.pdf
  • http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Value_in_Healthcare_report_2018.pdf
  • Stewart Player is a political analyst with over 20 years experience of working in the field of healthcare policy. Research areas covered include primary care, ISTCs, US healthcare policy, and long-term strategic developments within the NHS. Most recently working on NHS estates policy, restructuring within the private healthcare sector, and the political theory of transnational class formation.

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    NHSE/I consultation on

    “Integrating care: Next steps to building strong and effective
    integrated care systems across England”

    Response to the consultation by

    Professor Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick, Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University; and David Price, independent researcher

    8 January 2021

    1. Overview

    Publication of the next steps document during the covid-19 pandemic comes at a remarkable moment. Significant shortcomings have been exposed in the NHS[1], in the systems for communicable disease control and public health,[2] in the procurement system[3] and in the social care system.[4] The lack of hospital and ICU capacity have been major drivers of national lockdowns in March 2020 and January 2021 and the causes of severe winter pressures in previous years.

    At the same time, the pandemic has demonstrated the obstacles created by market bureaucracy and heavy-handed and centralised market regulation which have developed over decades in the NHS.

    The document hints at positive effects of the pandemic (paragraph 2.1) and refers in general terms to some of them (e.g., 2.72), which have played a part in “increas[ing] the appetite for statutory ‘clarity’ for ICSs and the organisations within them.” (3.8). It also recognises “the persistent complexity and fragmentation” which is rightly complained about (1.3).

    This is largely the product of reforms premised on competitive relations and contracting among health bodies. Finally a new anti-competition consensus appears to have emerged in NHS reform[5] which has found its way, though problematically, into the document.

    But as David Lock QC has said in 2019: “The big picture is that you have a market system. If you do not want a market system and you want to run a public service, you need a different form of legal structure.” And this obvious truth raises fundamental questions, which the document seems to glimpse, but which it is unwilling to grasp.

    Why, for example, continue to insist on running health organisations as businesses if the aim is collaboration instead of competition? How should needs-assessment and population planning be undertaken if the aim is to secure comprehensive health and social care for geographic areas? Where should they be located and on which bodies does the statutory duty of universality fall? How can major political questions surrounding resource distribution be undertaken consensually outside established political processes? Equitable access and solidarity require risk-pooling and a community response.

    Rather than rising to the challenge of these questions in ways which could reliably “provide[] the right foundation for the NHS over the next decade” (page 31), the document puts forward substantial de-regulatory proposals which continue to ‘work-around’ the current statutory market­based framework and undermine risk-pooling, even when proposing legislative change; much essential detail is omitted.

    As they stand, the proposals seek to achieve integration by focussing on increasing freedoms of the various bodies involved in commissioning and contracting. They rely on general exhortations to counter deregulation. Laudable “fundamental purposes” inform an “aim” of “a progressively deepening relationship between the NHS and local authorities”. Three “important observations” which may or may not be aims relate to more local decision-making, more collaboration and economies of scale. A “triple aim” duty of unspecified strength relates to “better health for the whole population, better quality care for all patients and financially sustainable services for the taxpayer” (1.3, 1.8, 1.9, 3.3).

    The approach however leaves substantially unchanged the legal powers of the many incorporated bodies active in the health care market among which collaboration is expected but from which disintegration has spread. If the aim is “rebalancing the focus on competition” (3.3) a concrete administrative alternative is required. None is offered. Seeking to promote greater integration whilst retaining commercial autonomy will not work.

    In summary, the proposals:

    • leave in place the purchaser-provider split and commercial contracting;
    • continue the ability to give further contracts to private companies, including, it seems, integrated care provider contracts;
    • provide no response to the finding of the National Audit Office in 2017 that “The Departments have not yet established a robust evidence base to show that integration leads to better outcomes for patients”;
    • favour no controls on ICS membership;
    • give immense and barely-regulated power to monopoly providers and clinical networks
    • contain no controls on the composition of “provider collaboratives”, which could include, for example, large private hospitals;
    • are silent on public accountability mechanisms at a system level, and at the non-statutory “place” level;
    • repeal section 75 of the 2012 Act, revoke some of the ‘section 75 regulations’ and remove commissioning of NHS healthcare services from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – which are welcome – but are silent on the safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest, and some of the section 75 regulations would seemingly be retained;
    • emphasise the importance of strategic needs assessment – which is also welcome – but do not require the assessment to frame provision or to qualify the power of providers and clinical networks;
    • do not appear to make ICSs responsible for all people in an area, and there are unresolved difficulties for integrating health and social care because of different funding bases for different populations;
    • are silent on whether individuals on GP lists will transfer to an ICS body, a provider or a provider collaborative;
    • are unclear on the fate of CCGs in Option 2;
    • contain no explanation of how capital investment strategies will operate, and whether charges on capital, including PFI charges, will change;
    • do not address the powers of NHS foundation trusts;
    • are unclear on how local authority public health funding will be protected;
    • are unclear on how social care funding will be protected, and how the currently different funding bases for health and social services will be addressed;
    • are silent about workforce planning;
    • envisage, but are unclear about, moving staff between organisations, and their terms and conditions.

    We discuss the details in the following two sections.

    1. ICSs during 2021/22 and before legislation

    The document seems to have two purposes: to further progress ICSs and the merger of CCGs ahead of legislation; and to explain changes to the NHSE/I’s legislative proposals published in September 2019.

    Our understanding of what an ICS will be and do, before legislation, is set out in the Box below.

    Box: What will an ICS be and do before legislation – as far as we can make out?

    1. An ICS will not have legal form and will consist of:
    • provider organisations as part of one or more undefined and self-determined “provider collaboratives” operating within and beyond the ICS playing “an active and strong leadership role” and being “a principal engine of transformation”(2.4, 2.31, 2.63); and
    • place-based partnerships”, defined by each ICS but seemingly comprising providers of primary care, community health and mental health services, social care and support, community diagnostics and urgent and emergency care – i.e., excluding secondary care, but including local authorities, Directors of Public Health and Healthwatch, and “may” include acute providers, ambulance trusts, the voluntary

    sector and other – undefined – partners (2.31, 1.16).

    1. It will receive a “single pot budget” which would comprise “current CCG commissioning budgets, primary care budgets, the majority of specialised commissioning spend, the budgets for certain other directly commissioned services, central support or sustainability funding and nationally-held transformation funding that is allocated to systems” (2.40), and will decide how that budget should be delegated to local “places” within the ICS.
    2. Providers will “agree proposals developed by [undefined and self-determined] clinical and operational networks” and will “implement resulting changes” including “implementing standard operating procedures to support agreed practice; designating services to ensure their sustainability; or wider service reconfiguration”; and will “shape the strategic health and care priorities for the populations they serve, and new opportunities – whether through lead provider models at place level or through fully-fledged integrated care provider contractual models – to determine how services are funded and delivered, and how different bodies involved in providing joined-up care work together” (2.11, 1.44).
    3. The ICS will undertake more strategic needs assessment and planning than CCGs can do, resulting in “the organisational form of C.’CGs…evolv|ing|” (2.62-2.63).
    4. The ICS will be subject to governance and public accountability arrangements that are said to be “clear but flexible”, but will not be statutory. (2.28-28, 2.19)

    We make a number of key points under the following headings:

    • Strategic needs assessment
    • The emphasis on strategic needs-based assessment and planning is welcome, yet there will be no single body which has the responsibility to carry it out and no legal mandating of it. This is likely to lead to buck-passing. Perhaps more importantly, it is also likely to lead to needs-based planning being overridden by increasingly powerful monopoly providers having pivotal influence over a single budget, and over its allocation both for non-secondary care services to undefined “places” with no statutory identity, and for secondary (and tertiary) care.
    • Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that services provided would be based on the needs assessment, because clinical networks are expected to carry out “clinical service strategy reviews on behalf of the ICS” and “develop proposals and recommendations” which providers will agree.

    Indeed, “[c]linical networks and provider collaborations will drive…service change” (2.26, 2.11, 2.72). No tie-in to the strategic needs assessment is proposed, let alone a requirement for it to frame provision.

    • Public health experts have traditionally performed the functions of needs assessment, facilitating service development and service planning. However, public health sits outside of health services and is further fragmented between local authorities and the Secretary of State (Public Health England, to be replaced by another non-statutory body, the National Institute for Health Protection) as a result of the 2012 Act.

    Clinical Support Units provide information and support for commercial contracting. They are not substitutes for public health, are not integrated into CCGs or local public health departments, and do not inform strategic needs assessment and service planning.

    • The single pot budget

    It appears – certainly before, and perhaps after, legislation – that ICSs will not be responsible for all people within an ICS area. That term – an ICS area – is conspicuously absent from the proposals. The CCG membership model (‘persons for whom they are responsible’) cannot be changed without legislation and so will presumably be ‘scaled-up’ to cover all the CCGs involved.

    We have previously expressed[6] concern about how Accountable Care Organisations would have been able to integrate health and social care services because their funding would have been for a different population (GP lists versus local authority), and would not have health service funding allocated for unregistered CCG residents who might be eligible for local authority social services. This concern still applies in relation to ICSs, including provider collaboratives and place-based partnerships, both with and without legislation, and with and without integrated provider care contracts.

    In addition, the bases upon which resources will be allocated to secondary (and tertiary) care and to place-based partnerships, and within those partnerships are entirely unclear. This is presumably deliberate. Already there has been a marked decrease in administrative accountability for spending, and multiple contracts and subcontracts – which will continue – make it increasingly impossible to ‘follow the money’, let alone to assess the costs of contract administration. Detailed financial reporting to NHSE/I is obviously essential and may be provided for, but public transparency in funding as between primary care, community and mental health services, and acute, secondary and specialist care, including sub-contracting, is also essential.

    • Provider collaboratives

    No control is proposed over the composition of these collaboratives. They could and presumably will consist of private as well as public providers, e.g., of mental health services, residential and nursing care, acute hospital care and pathology services. The potential inclusion, for example, of large private hospitals, which have been contracted during the pandemic, needs to be clarified immediately. No control is proposed over the granting of contracts to providers within these collaboratives, who may in fact be distant from and have no connection with the local community and be subject to commercially-driven mergers, acquisitions and closures that threaten patient care.[7]

    Full integrated care provider contracts can be awarded, though there is no reference to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee in June 2019 having “strongly recommend[ed] that legislation should rule out the option of non-statutory providers holding an ICP contract [in order to] allay fears that ICP contracts provide a vehicle for extending the scope of privatisation in the English NHS”. In September 2019, NHSE/I acknowledged this and stated that it supported the recommendation. If private companies are not likely to be awarded such contracts, then what is lost by legislating to that effect? And what prevented a clear statement to that effect being made in this document?

    Neither is there any reference to the HSC Committee’s recommendation that “ICP contracts should be piloted only in a small number of local areas and subject to careful evaluation”.

    • ICS membership

    There are two potential aspects in this regard.

    The document proposes for legislative change Option 2 that the ICS body should be able to appoint such members to the ICS body as it deems appropriate “allowing for maximum flexibility for systems to shape their membership to suit the needs of their populations” (3.19). It seems that this will be possible de facto before legislation, e.g., via the unspecified provider collaboratives. This risks giving private companies influence over the allocation of NHS funding: “they are there to make money from the NHS” in the words of Dr Graham Winyard – and should not be admitted as members. Yet the document is silent on this point.

    As for patients, the document is silent on whether individuals on GP lists will transfer to any provider (e.g. under an integrated care provider contract), or even to a provider collaborative – or, after legislation based on Option 2, to an ICS body; and, if so, how that would be achieved and whether individuals would have any choice in the matter. In addition, will individuals be able to move from one ICS to another? And what happens, for example, if an individual is on the list of a GP (or provider or provider collaborative) within the ICS, but lives in a local authority area within another ICS and requires social care?

    NHSE/I should clarify these issues as soon as possible.

    • Public accountability

    ICSs will be making major resource allocation decisions, which will often be controversial. Transparency and scrutiny will be critical. However, the document says nothing about how current public accountability requirements and mechanisms will work in an ICS context. These mechanisms are based mainly around CCGs and local authorities, but in reality these bodies will no longer be the decision-makers. Actual decision-making will be de-coupled from legal functions and the effectiveness of public accountability will be diminished in the process.

    • Competition and contracting

    Proposals to remove market competition, compulsory contracting and the commissioning of NHS healthcare services (only) from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – which are welcome – cannot happen without statutory change; the rights of private providers and the purchaser-provider split remain in place. The work-arounds continue.

    • Social care

    Adult social services are means-tested. Health services are not. Providers of social care and support are said to be included in place-based partnerships, but the allocation of resources to and within the partnerships is entirely unclear. There is no mention of any safeguards to prevent services which are currently free from being re-designated as social care and so subject to means-testing and possible charges.

    • Public health

    Local authority public health will fall within place-based partnerships. As for other services covered by these non-statutory partnerships, there is no mention of how protecting public health funding will be achieved in the face of the power of provider collaboratives and clinical networks operating at the level of the ICS and beyond. Representation by DPHs and other local authorities is unlikely to be enough.

    • Workforce planning

    The next steps document is silent about work force planning. Lack of doctors and staff is already a serious issue after years of fragmentation, lack of investment and, appallingly, absence of a strategy: the Kings Fund described it recently as “a workforce crisis”. NHSE/I need to be clear about how attempts to improve this critical function would operate in the ICS context.

    • Moving staff and their terms and conditions

    It is proposed that there should be “frictionless movement of staff across organisational boundaries” (bizarrely in the context of data and digital technology, page 20). This is capable of different meanings across a spectrum, but nothing more is said about this, nor on the terms and conditions of staff in the ICS context. Much more information should be provided.

    1. ICSs after legislation

    There is much less information on legislative changes in the next steps document than was contained in NHSE/I’s September 2019 document entitled The NHS’s recommendations to Government and Parliament for an NHS Bill. The next steps document lists some of those recommendations and states, oddly, “We believe these proposals still stand” (3.3, 3.4). This statement makes it unclear whether they continue to be proposals.

    The next steps document proposes two options for legislation.

    Option 1 would establish the ICS as a mandatory statutory ICS Board in the form of a joint committee of NHS commissioners, providers and local authorities with an Accountable Officer, and with one CCG only per ICS footprint which would be able to delegate “many of its population health functions to providers” (page 29).

    Option 2 would set up a new statutory ICS body as an NHS body by “repurposing” CCGs, taking on their commissioning functions, plus additional duties and powers, and having “the primary duty…to secure the effective provision of health services to meet the needs of the system population, working in collaboration with partner organisations”. It would have “flexibility to make arrangements with providers through contracts or by delegating responsibility for arranging specified services to one or more providers”. It would have a board of representatives of system partners (NHS providers, primary care and local government alongside a Chair, a Chief Executive and a Chief Financial Officer as a minimum) with the ability to appoint such other members as the ICS deems appropriate “for maximum flexibility for systems to shape their membership to suit the needs of their populations” (page 30).

    NHSE/I prefer Option 2.

    Most of the points we have made pre-legislation continue to apply. We expand on some of those and add to them as follows:

    • Major reorganisation

    It is striking that despite the apparent opportunity for primary legislation following the Queen’s Speech neither Option grapples with the fundamental questions posed in the Overview above, which flow from the anti-competitive consensus (if such there be). This might be because NHSE/I wish to avoid being seen to be proposing a major reorganisation. But this is exactly what is happening, even without legislation.

    In September 2019, NHSE/I stated:

    “The Select Committee [in July 2019] agreed that NHS commissioners and providers should be newly allowed to form joint decision-making committees on a voluntary basis, rather than the alternative of creating Integrated Care Systems (ICS) as new statutory bodies, which would necessitate a major NHS reorganisation.” (emphasis added)

    • Competition and contracting

    No legislative changes are proposed to the purchaser-provider split. Whilst repeal of procurement rules under section 75 of the 2012 Act and removal of commissioning of NHS healthcare services (only) from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 are welcome, the document is silent on safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest.

    It is also important to recall that in September 2019 NHSE/I stated that it would retain a number of the provisions of the NHS (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No.2) Regulations 2013 – commonly referred to as the ‘section 75 regulations’. Of particular worry, exacerbated by the covid- 19 pandemic, is retention of “the requirement to put in place arrangements to ensure that patients are offered a choice of alternative providers in certain circumstances where they will not receive treatment within maximum waiting times”. The possibility of the use of private providers in these circumstances, rather than increasing NHS capacity, is obvious.

    • Fate of CCGs

    NHSE/I still seem undecided about the fate of CCGs in Option 2. Under both Options, the document states that “current CCG functions would subsequently be absorbed to become core ICS business” (2.64). Yet the document only proposes, in relation to Option 2, to replace the CCG governing body and GP membership, but for some unknown reason does not state that CCGs will be abolished, which presumably they must be, under Option 2, with no replacement.

    • ICS membership

    The document proposes in Option 2 – though we are not clear why this is not a possibility in Option 1 nor de facto from now onwards (see section 2(4) above) – that the ICS body should be able to appoint such members as it deems appropriate. This would be a blatant undermining of the ICS as an NHS body.

    In addition, as stated above (section 2(4)), it is unclear whether individuals on GP lists would be transferred to the ICS body.

    • Missing proposals
    • Even though both Options propose primary legislation, the document contains no proposal for ICS- specific public accountability mechanisms, for abolishing the purchaser-provider split, or to give place-based partnerships a legal identity.

    • A fundamental omission is how capital investment strategies will operate and whether charges on capital will change. NHS Property Services is now charging market rent for property occupied by Trusts, CCGs and some GP premises. Foundation trusts have autonomy over the property they hold and investment decisions. However, the Private Finance Initiative has left a legacy of major debt in health services and in local authorities. There has been no public scrutiny of the impact of the covid- 19 pandemic on PFI contracts, on debt repayments and on renegotiation of the exorbitant rates of interest being paid out as part of the annual payments.

    • The powers of FTs are not addressed not least the ability to generate up to half their income from outside the NHS, at a time when public capacity is reducing and waiting lists, e.g., for surgery and cancer care, are growing. Nor is it made clear whether current contracts with large private hospital chains (SPIRE et al.) are long-term and whether they will be involved in provider collaboratives.

    • In September 2019, NHSE/I recommended abolishing the prospective repeal of the power to designate NHS trusts that was enacted in the 2012 Act but never brought into force, to support the creation of integrated care providers. The next steps document only mentions this in passing (3.3). It remains unclear if this still being proposed and, if it is, the circumstances in which it could be exercised.

    1. Conclusion

    These proposals are incoherent, de-regulatory and unclear, and are not equal to the existential threat that is posed by the current government to the NHS as a universal, comprehensive, publicly- provided service free at the point of delivery. This has been amply demonstrated by the government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic which has directed billions of pounds to private companies to provide services that should have been provided by the NHS, Public Health England and local authorities. The proposals allow this to continue and increase.

    Neither can the ambition of providing a sound foundation for the next decade be sensibly addressed without considering the inevitable but uncertain changes that will be necessary post-pandemic to the public health and social care systems, and to the functions of local authorities.

    The challenge now is much greater than it was in 2019, when the difficulties of getting major NHS legislation through the House of Commons was used as a reason/excuse for not proposing legislation equal to the task of taking the market out of NHS once and for all. We urge MPs who are committed to the NHS as a public service to support scrapping the 2012 Health and Social Care Act in its entirety and to support the NHS Reinstatement Bill which would put back the government’s duty to provide key services, delegated to Strategic Integrated Health Boards and Local Integrated Health Boards.

    END

    [1] E.g., lack staff, beds and other capacity following inadequate investment and the absence of a workforce planning strategy over many years; inadequate planning and personal protective equipment (PPE); marginalising GPs.

    [2] E.g., devaluing local authorities and the NHS by centralising and privatising tracking, tracing and testing; spending hundreds of millions of pounds on inaccurate lateral flow tests; by-passing the established system for notifying suspected cases.

    [3] E.g., spending billions of pounds on untendered contracts, including to companies with no track record.

    [4] E.g., shortages of staff and PPE; high excess deaths; inappropriate discharge of hospital patients to care homes.

    [5]  “These developments [of STPs and ICSs] represent an important shift in direction for NHS policy. The 2012 Act aimed to strengthen the role of competition in the NHS, consolidating a market-based approach to reform that has been in place since the establishment of the internal market in 1991. By 2019, however, competition rarely gets mentioned in NHS policy. Instead, the Five Year Forward View, STPs, and ICSs are based on the idea that collaboration – not competition – is essential to improve care and manage resources, including between commissioners and providers”. Health Foundation submission to the Health and Social Care Select Committee inquiry into legislative proposals in response to the NHS Long Term Plan, April 2019

    [6] Pollock AM, Roderick P. Why we should be concerned about accountable care organisations in England’s

    NHS. BMJ. 2018;360:k343. https://allysonpollock.com/?page id=11

    [7] E.g., Care Home Professional, Terra Firma close to £160m care home sale to Barchester Healthcare, 15 November 2019, https://www.carehomeprofessional.com/terra-firma-close-to-160m-ca re-home-sale-to- barchester-healthcare-report/

     

    ICS Next steps Consultation Response 08Jan21

    2 Comments

    by Esther Giles, Former Director of Finance (Specialised Services) South Region of England, SHA member”

    This article tracks the extent and nature of marketisation and privatisation in the NHS up to the current proposed move to Integrated care systems (ICSs) and argues that the current ICS proposals are the logical conclusion of the marketisation reforms implemented progressively from Thatcher onwards.

     

    Some of David Cameron’s many famous last words were his pre-election pledge in 2010 that there would be no more “top-down reorganisations” of the NHS[1]. He then presided, in 2012, over the most chaotic and unlegislated top-down upheaval of the NHS that can be imagined or remembered. The resulting fragmentation and damage were never resolved, and so the NHS goes limping in the logical conclusion of the relentless drive away from a universal national service, and towards the current proposals for Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) modelled on the US Kaiser Permanente system of Accountable Care Systems.

    The 2012 Health and Social Care Act and Marketisation

    The internal market was given a fundamental boost by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Under this Act, all NHS services above a stated value had to be put out to competitive tender, turning the provision of healthcare into an economic activity and, as such, subject to EU competition Law.

    Thus, private providers such as Capita and Virgin have been seen bidding to provide NHS services, mainly in community services. Sometimes they win and sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, they look for opportunity to sue. In the South West, we saw Virgin win contracts for Community Services in Devon[2] and Bath and North-East Somerset (BANES). Richard Branson’s Virgin HealthCare won £1bn worth of contracts in 2016/17. It won these services from the NHS and from non-profit making services such as community interest companies.

    NHS acute hospitals have all stayed within the NHS so far, except for a short flirtation between Hinchingbrooke Hospital and the Circle Group, which ended in disaster, with the provider being put into “special measures” in 2015. The picture is very different for mental health care, where the private sector has had continued domination of parts of the market, in 2012/13, 22% (£1.7bn) of NHS mental health spend was with the independent sector, compared with 4% (£1.8bn) of acute spend. Providers include St. Andrew’s Healthcare, Partnerships in Care, and the Priory Group. For secure MH services, they are all building ‘private’ because the NHS cannot afford the capital funding to do so, Typically, these independent sectors beds cost the NHS 20% more than NHS beds[3].

    There is no evidence that the Internal Market has been any sort of success. No evidence that competition has improved outcomes in any but a few limited examples where causality is neither clear nor proven. The costs of the internal market are huge. Administrative costs in the NHS were estimated at 14% in 2005 compared with 5% before the 1980s; costs of the internal market alone are estimated in the range of £5bn per annum.  To quote Professor Paton in his 2015 study:

    “The ‘market’ in the NHS is a major source of waste. Creating and maintaining markets has incurred huge direct costs and significant ‘opportunity costs’ – money which could have spent upon patient care and clinical redesign.”

    The Private Finance Initiative

    The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was introduced by John Major’s Government from 1992 and was embraced by the subsequent Blair government as a means of removing spending from Government balance sheets and thus reducing public spending in the short term. Most authorities would accept that the PFI has failed, and at material cost to the taxpayer.

    The promulgation of the Neoliberal Ethos in the NHS

    Progressive neoliberal reforms have reinforced the ideology of the market. All have fragmented the provision of healthcare and siphoned public money off into private sector balance sheets, shareholder dividends and profit margins. At the same time, pressures on NHS budgets require NHS management to reduce costs. It seems that the NHS has been presented with an imperative to cut costs and handed privatisation as an alleged means to this end.

    The NHS is one of the most efficient and trusted healthcare systems in the World. One of the reasons for its efficacy and efficiency is that people are given care according to their needs and irrespective of their means. This ethos belongs to its workers as well as to the organisation; for many people who work for the NHS, it is a vocation, and they care deeply about what they do. They have the intrinsic motivation that drew me to a career in the NHS. But, over the past thirty-five years, this ethos has been progressively undermined by the neoliberal ideology that delivery and innovation must be driven by competition and the profit motive, and that input costs must be minimised. This ideology appears to have been accepted, without challenge, by every government since and by the top management of the NHS, despite many public campaigns against privatisation. The consequence of this, combined with a political austerity consensus – that the deficit must and will be reduced by cutting public spending and selling off public assets, means that cost-cutting is accepted as part of the “solution” for the NHS. In a ‘business’ where more than 70% of costs are staff related, the next leap of logic is that staff costs must be cut.[4] This is interpreted and delivered in a number of ways, all of which serve to undermine the quality and energy of the NHS workforce and which include pay freezes, dilution of skill mix, reducing “management costs “, and the outsourcing and privatisation of individual components of the NHS.

    Many people- and not just socialists- have been dismayed over the years at the continuing and relentless reorganisation, marketisation, privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS. The market, with its endless and costly hand-offs between one commercial entity and another, cripples the best efforts of professional staff and those that support them.  Not only are these hand-offs costly to procure, but they also require constant and detailed policing. Furthermore, continuous reorganisation and market testing destroy morale and organisational memory. All these results of the market take focus away from patient care. I believe that the NHS works best with a collaborative rather than a competitive ethos. Where decisions about care are driven by the needs of the patient, not by the scope for profit. Where quality is a prerogative always, not just when it helps to win a contract. Where the entire NHS budget is used to provide and support patient care.

    NHS workers bear the brunt of the rhetoric and dogma at the heart of current policy, being presented as a cost rather than a benefit, a “burden” on the state, the costs of whom must be minimised. They must” tighten their belts” like everyone else – apart from the wealthiest. Now, the biggest crisis in the NHS is the lack of qualified staff, exacerbated by the removal by the current government of bursaries for nurses and by its disastrous instrumentalisation of migrants’ rights in Brexit negotiations. ​ It is a crisis brought on by what appears to be deliberate incompetence by the Government, mitigated only by the continued introduction of qualified staff from third world countries.

    The Extent of Privatisation

    A simple measure is the proportion of NHS spend on private sector providers as reported in the Department of Health Accounts. In 2004, this was 2.8%. and in 2018/19, it was reported as 7.3%. with privatisation accelerating after the Health and Social Care Act 2012. However, these figures mask the extent of private provision within NHS providers, where many ancillary services- such as cleaning, catering, portering and pharmacy- have been outsourced since Thatcher’s 1983 initiative. There is also spending on private providers of primary care (including GPs) to take into account. After adding these into the figures, the total spend of NHS England in the private sector in 2018/19  is estimated by David Rowland, Director of the Centre for Public Health and Interest as £29bn, or 26% of NHS England spending. So, there’s little doubt that privatisation is increasing in the NHS, and that “market reforms”, compulsory tendering under EU Law (until now), and a lack of ready cash are important drivers of this. It is of huge credit to NHS workers that, despite these onslaughts and years of pay freezes and cuts to services, they soldier on.

    Consultation on Integrated Care Systems

    The fragmentation forced by the disastrous 2012 Health and Social Care Act exposed the gross dysfunction of the internal market. It set commissioners against providers in an endless spiral of tactics to gain at the expense of the other, at huge administrative and organisational cost. The concept of the ICS could, in theory, see a return to the local system approach adopted in District Health Authorities (DHAs) prior to NHS marketisation, with funding being based on populations adjusted for cross boundary flows, with no internal market, and with local systems agreeing plans and setting budgets and quality standards for local services. This would provide the opportunity to remove layers of bureaucracy and unnecessary accounting and contracting and enable savings to move out to fund the front line. But it is clear from the consultation document that this is not the intended approach. And neither was this ever intended.

     

    The very core purpose of ICSs is to drive down care based on demanding cost savings targets imposed by the Government, in a service that is already one of the most efficient in the world. The ethos, even the language[5]  is that of the American accountable care system, where being seen to be cutting costs (and creating an industry out of that) is a key organisational driver and measure of success. And it is crystal clear that the policy march started by Thatcher and continued through Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May was to implement the Kaiser Permanente model first introduced by Alain Enthoven, and whose thinking was adopted by the Central Policy Think Tank when the internal market was first introduced into the NHS

    Specific Areas to address in the consultation document (and for Labour to develop) are suggested as follows:

    • the document retains the language and structure of the internal market in that it refers to provider organisations and provider collaboratives, and commissioners. The inference is that fragmentation can be addressed by provider collaboration (and, presumably, ultimately merger). Thus, it intends to retain the most pernicious and inefficient components of the internal market. A socialist radical approach (and which is Labour Policy) would be to remove the internal market altogether, and focus on quality assured service provision, supported by rigorous benchmarking of quality and cost and an overarching strategic and operational planning function. Undoubtedly there are extraordinarily strong vested interests in retaining the status quo, with “providers” having developed as big businesses in their own right.
    • The consultation document refers to “digital and data” to drive system working, and yet there appears to be no single NHS solution for this. Instead, there is a “Framework” calling on a wide range of “providers”, and the suggestion that there should be “shared contracts and platforms to increase resiliency”. An alternative to this would be an NHS-wide and provided digital data and information service.
    • Each System/Geographic area will have its own pot of money covering the whole of local spending on healthcare. Transactional costs are intended to be reduced through the “blended payment” model. An alternative approach would be to remove tariffs and set budgets based on the costs of the services required by the system. These costs could be budgeted on a variable basis using agreed parameters (such as variable capacity requirements).
    • Specialised Services need to be planned on a larger geographical footprint than other general services. This will require collaboration and planning between ICSs so that the needs of each ICS population are met in an equitable and efficient way. The funding for the relevant services should sit with the local ICS (managed on the same principles as RAWP with DHAs) so that they have the funding required to budget for all their locally provided services. Whatever mechanism is put in place should minimise transaction costs.

    [1] In a speech at the Royal College of Pathologists on 2 November 2009, Cameron said: “With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS.”

    [2] https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/health/virgin-care-set-lose-multi-2038196

    [3] Based on tariff data collected internally by NHS England in 2018/19

    [4] “‘Since it takes time to train skilled staff, (for example, up to 13 years to consult), the risk is that the NHS will lock itself into outdated models of delivery unless we radically alter the way in which we plan and train our workforce. HEE will therefore work with its statutory partners to commission and expand new health and care roles, ensuring we have a more flexible workforce […]” [5 Year Forward View, page 30.]

    [5] Along with the structures, the purpose, and the key role of US healthcare corporations in importing it to the UK, even phrases like “Right care, right time, right place” to advertise the NHS Long Term Plan’s service closures programmes, are lifted straight from the language of accountable care in the US. It is not a coincidence that the Healthcare Financial Management Association (the professional organisation representing finance professionals in the NHS) has, for many years, operated an exchange programme with the US, and with many conferences featuring US healthcare models. The HFMA offers courses based on the US model.

    6 Comments

    John Lister (editor Health Campaigns Together, co-editor The Lowdown)

    This is an opinion piece – it is not SHA policy

    Despite all the other issues that might be expected to be priorities, it seems NHS England remains focused on driving through its plans for yet another reorganisation, to establish a network of 42 “Integrated Care Systems” (ICSs) to control services at local level – and possibly even fewer than that, with the possibility some smaller ICSs might also merge

    A new 39-page NHSE consultation document “Integrating Care” at the end of November follows on from a volley of instructions to local health chiefs in a circular on July 31, which appeared to be about rebuilding services after the first peak of Covid infection, but took the opportunity to drive forward the process of merging Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and establishing ICSs in a final page of instructions.

    The new document piles on pressure for prompt government action, setting an ambition of securing new legislation that would allow the whole of England’s NHS to be run through ICSs by 2022.

    It makes the extraordinary claim that the establishment of ICSs – driven relentlessly from the top by NHS England, and resisted at local level by local government bodies, GPs and campaigners – is in fact “a bottom-up response.”

    It rehearses the stock arguments for creating ICSs, with lofty, inflated and largely baseless claims that the handful of early ICSs “have improved health, developed better and more seamless services and ensured public resources are used where they can have the greatest impact.” In fact all the improvements that have been made along these lines have been made under existing legislation, with ICSs, lacking power or authority, having been able to do little or nothing.

    There are also multiple references to “digital” and “data” as ways of driving system working and improving outcomes, despite the lack of evidence for these claims. New “digital” technology and number-crunching for “population health management” are among the more lucrative areas in which private companies from the US and elsewhere are seeking to gain a profitable foothold, not least through the Health Systems Support Framework established by NHS England.

    Many campaigners remain justifiably suspicious of the extent to which ICSs, which have been set up and function largely in secret, would be in any way accountable to local communities if given statutory powers.

    And while Integrating Care argues for the need to establish ICSs as “statutory bodies” with real powers, notably “the capacity to … direct resources to improve service provision,” there are real fears that NHS England, facing more years of tight and inadequate budgets, sees ICSs and system-wide policing of finances as a way of more ruthlessly enforcing cash-cutting reductions or restrictions on availability of services through “control totals” limiting spending across each ICS, and growing lists of excluded “procedures of limited clinical value”.

    The HSJ, normally happy to go with the flow of NHS England, has pointed out how vague are the proposals in the new document, and raised questions over funding:

    “While the paper makes it clear the current system doesn’t work, it gives little indication of what a better solution will look like and how that efficiency drive will be maintained.

    “For example, it said ICSs will be given a ”single pot” of money from which to manage spending priorities. But there is no framework for how this will be spent that assures fairness, value for money and quality outcomes.”

    Integrating Care suggests two alternative routes to establishing a legal status for ICSs; one by setting them up as new “joint committees” once the remaining unmerged CCGs had been merged to leave one per ICS, with the resulting loss of local accountability. The joint committees would enable NHS “commissioners, providers and local authorities” to take decisions collectively, although NHSE admits that this leaves “many questions” about accountability and clarity of leadership unresolved.

    In the second option an ICS would effectively take the place of a CCG, replacing its governing body (along with its GP membership model) with a new board consisting of representatives from the “system partners” – including representatives of NHS providers, primary care and local government alongside a Chair, a Chief Executive and a Chief Financial Officer. In other words the CCGs, having been merged into bodies far larger in scope than the original 207 CCGs, would be abolished, with their commissioning role taken over by the ICSs.

    This second model is the one favoured by NHS England. But it has raised concerns amongst GPs, some of whom fear that they and primary care as a whole would once more be marginalised by new structures that could be dominated by bigger providers, and especially by large-scale acute hospital trusts.

    GP Online has highlighted “alarm” among GPs over the development of ICSs, and a recent motion adopted by Doctors in Unite which warns:

    “ICSs have been introduced and developed undemocratically, without consultation and with a lack of transparency. Their aim is to impose ‘reduced per capita cost’ control totals to force unproven and unsolicited innovation, including elements of privatisation and paid for care, in each system’s struggle to meet local population need.”

    NHS Providers, representing trusts and foundation trusts, has also expressed some reservations, warning that:

    “It makes sense to collaborate and deliver different services at different levels of scale, but all of these partnerships will need appropriate resourcing and cannot necessarily continue operating from within the existing staff base. …

    “What we do know is that trust leaders – and partners from across the health and care system – are cautious about any top-down, inflexible reorganisation of the NHS, particularly in the middle of a pandemic.”

     

    Will ministers back NHSE plan?

    While NHS Providers expect an NHS Bill to be announced in the next Queen’s Speech and introduced in the late spring next year, this is up to ministers. In pushing hard and publicly now for legislation NHSE might be motivated by concern that the Johnson government (whose manifesto this time last year promised legislation to carry through NHS England’s Long Term Plan, which includes ICSs) may have since changed tack.

    Last month the Department of Health published outline plans for “Busting bureaucracy” which appeared to back the NHSE approach, and committed to “bring forward legislative reform to reduce bureaucracy and promote collaboration across the health and care system,” building on “previous NHS recommendations to remove the two current procurement regimes which apply to clinical healthcare services and replace them with a new procurement regime.”

    However revelations that Matt Hancock had been held back during the summer from plans to speed through the promised changes, and that  a secret Downing Street “task force” on health policy has been meeting over the summer and autumn – without inviting NHSE chief executive Sir Simon Stevens – suggest the PM may have been steered away by his advisors from what appeared to be a common agenda.

    The only legislation on the NHS since last December’s election gave Johnson a Commons majority of 80 was to lock in the government’s inadequate promise of an extra £20 billion in real terms (£33.9bn in cash terms) by 2024 – effectively limiting government health spending.

    And while the Covid pandemic has clearly preoccupied ministers and MPs since the early spring, the lack of any firm timetable or commitment for government action does raise the possibility that they have pulled back from the new legislation which NHSE argues is necessary to roll back key sections of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act – and pave the way for ICSs.

    However we should not confuse NHSE’s moves to limit the requirement to put services out to tender with rolling back privatisation. As we have seen with so many Covid contracts, awarding contracts without competitive tender does not by any means end privatisation – or the “market” in health care, separating purchasers (commissioners) from providers.

    The whole focus of NHS England’s proposals is on limiting contracting and competitive tendering …  to clear the way for even large-scale mergers of providers, which are free to involve the private sector as “partners” or as sub-contractors.

    The Lansley Act’s version of tendering has already to a large extent been supplanted by the proliferation of “Framework contracts” in which NHS England or its privatisation sub-division NHS Shared Business Services sets up a list of pre-approved providers including private companies, non-profits and some NHS-led organisations, which can be allocated contracts WITHOUT formal tendering or competition, or from which a small group can be selected for a ‘mini-competition’.

    Because no public process or advertisement is required, this type of contracting out/privatisation can take place with little or no public scrutiny.

    So far, regardless of the government’s obvious hesitancy, it appears that the consensus assumption within the NHS is that NHSE will get legislation along the lines it has requested.

    Even then there are many unknown factors. How far does Johnson’s clique of advisors really want to go with NHS reform? How fast?

    How much priority can they and will they give it as Brexit chaos breaks out from January?

    Do they really want now to marginalise Stevens and replace him with a more pliable Tory crony like Dido Harding – who would lack any credibility with NHS chiefs?

    What we do know is that whatever the organisational changes, without additional revenue and capital funding and a properly resourced workforce plan the NHS is headed for constant crisis.

    And for the Johnson government to assert greater central control over the NHS as it fails, or visibly attempt to privatise the most popular public service would be risking electoral disaster. We will have to wait to see which way they will go … and whether Johnson will – as rumoured – reshuffle his government, or even seek an early exit from Downing Street.

    Problems for campaigners

    There are also tough decisions for campaigners on how best to respond. The process of transition from CCGs towards ICSs is already well-advanced with the majority of CCGs already merged, and 29 of the target 42 ICSs now formally in place. This makes any nationally coordinated campaign extremely difficult.

    However the mergers have also served highlight the fact that defending the status quo against NHS England’s plans is also a non-starter, since merged CCGs are already showing themselves more than capable of implementing policies as bad as many fear from ICSs.

    In Nottingham, for example, the merged CCG covering the city and the whole county has embarked on a vicious combined attack on one of the best performing primary care practices in the area, putting the services up for tender while slashing the per capita funding by over 40% – with a subsidiary of the US-owned Centene corporation apparently lined up to snatch the contract.

    With CCGs as bad as this, and with as little accountability to local communities, ICSs could prove to be little worse.

    So while campaigners will continue to resist the forced mergers of more CCGs, the wider campaigning goal must not be limited to retention of the structures created by the 2012 Act.

    NHS England want to repeal only selective parts of the Act. But to create any chance of genuine local accountability it’s necessary to scrap the remaining elements of the Act and the competitive market and purchaser/provider split it entrenched, to roll back tendering and privatisation, and create unified local health boards.

    In other words the alternative would be genuine re-integration of health services split asunder since the days of Margaret Thatcher. However there’s no sign of any government appetite for such progressive reform, or of opposition pressure in this direction.

    So with the Johnson government still bolstered by a huge Commons majority it appears that for the time being genuine integration is an ambition that is largely limited to propaganda, while campaigning focuses on exposing the flaws in the current system and fighting every move that advances privatisation.

    (This article is adapted and updated  from an article in The Lowdown (December 6).

    Comments Off on NHS England pushes for “integration” … but not as we know it

    On Saturday July 4th, the day before the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the NHS – we demonstrated, jointly with Manchester Trade Union Council, with Unison, Unite and any other unions involved, with Keep Our NHS Public and with Health Campaigns Together (with PPE and social distancing) against the privatisation of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at St Mary’s Hospital Manchester.

    NEXT EVENT

    VIRTUAL PUBLIC MEETING: No privatisation of Manchester’s fertility service!
    Monday, 20 July 2020 from 19:00-20:30

    Details at the end of this article

    Women in the Labour Movement have been campaigning for at least 100 years on issues of maternal health and the right to choose whether and when to have children, and to use any technological advances that might make those choices easier, or even possible. From 1924 onwards the Women’s Labour League annually and unanimously supported birth control. The men in the Labour and Trade Union Movement were not always so unanimous, or so interested in the subject.

    In 1924 the first Labour Government was elected, and the League bombarded John Wheatley – the first Labour Minister of Health – with demands for improved health care in childbirth and after, and for the provision of free, state birth control clinics. They organised meetings and major demonstrations. They kept reminding him that giving birth had four times the death rate of working in the mines, the most dangerous job for men, and twenty times the likelihood of permanent disability.

    However, it was not until 1974 – another 50 years later – that women achieved the right to free contraception on the NHS, irrespective of age or marital status, by which time I had joined the Labour Party and it was one of the issues I was campaigning for myself, first through the Young Socialists and then the Labour Women’s organisation . Nowadays, men can also get free vasectomies  and, whether for contraception or protection against HIV, free condoms on the NHS, also irrespective of age. None of these successes, in areas where some people like to make moral rather than medical judgements, was easy or straightforward.

    For example, even after the beginning of the decriminalisation of homosexuality for men in 1967, homophobia was still rampant for many years. Thus, more than 20 years later in 1988, Thatcher was able to introduce Clause 28. Roy Trevelion (London SHA member) in Age UK’s Opening Doors London, likens the mental health of many HIV positive men – as a consequence of the AIDS epidemic and ongoing homophobia – to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most gay men who obtained free condoms would have been more likely to get them from organisations like the Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester (and similar ones elsewhere), which is registered as a charity and raised money to provide them on that basis. Many gay men would have been more able and less anxious to get their condoms from peer-support charities like this than to risk accidentally outing themselves at the doctor’s or clinic.

    The post World War II economic boom brought rising employment of women and improved living standards, and with increased confidence, women demanded recognition for their contribution to society and the right to control their own lives. These led to the Abortion Act 1967 as well as to Equal Pay (1970) and Sex Discrimination (1975) legislation, and the right to paid maternity leave (1975). The Abortion Act did not give women the right to choose, but made it legal for abortions to be carried out with the approval of two doctors under certain circumstances. In effect it decriminalised what women had been doing for centuries, just as the 1967 Sexual Offences Act (partially) decriminalised homosexual acts between men.

    Making abortion illegal in 1861 had not stopped it, and the 1967 Act did not encourage it: it just made the difference between a woman dying as a consequence, or surviving. (In Romania, abortion was illegal until 1989: but abortions still outnumbered live births – in 1987 by four to one.) I remember providing accommodation to Spanish women coming to the UK for abortions before 1985, when it became legal in Spain, and from the Republic of Ireland before the end of 2018 when it was legalised there.

    However, the 1967 Abortion Act, like the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, was not the end of the matter. There were several attempts to repeal or considerably amend the Abortion Act, such as the White Bill, the Corrie Bill and the Alton Bill, which gave rise in turn to their own protest movements. A very large demonstration against the Corrie Bill was called by the TUC (on the initiative of the Women’s TUC) in 1980, the first time in the world that a major trade union federation had called a demonstration on abortion rights; and another against the Alton Bill in 1988, again with the support of the trade union movement. None of these Private Member’s Bills was successful, but in the end the period during which abortion could be legally carried out was reduced to 24 weeks in 1990, by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, based on the recommendations of the Committee of the same name, chaired by Mary Warnock, was passed in 1990. When it was originally passed it allowed access to infertility treatment, such as Artificial Insemination or In Vitro Fertilisation, at a cost (in money and patience, especially with IVF) but it also required the women who wanted medical assistance to become mothers, to conform to a very traditional view of motherhood and the family, as reflected in the attitudes of doctors, hospital ethical committees and the Warnock Committee at that time, and laid down in Codes of Practice. These were not medical decisions but social and moral ones.

    For example, to be “suitable” for treatment, a woman had to be living in a stable relationship with a man, and usually had to be able-bodied. Some clinics were reluctant to treat couples where the man was not in work, or the woman not prepared to give up work. Single women and lesbian couples were not usually eligible.  Tory MP David Wilshire made it clear in his speech that he was particularly concerned that “assisted conception” would not produce families dependent on the state, and another amendment was passed to include “the need of a child for a father”.

    Why is Reproductive Technology a Political Issue?

    Thirty years ago I wrote those words in a book called “Whose Choice?”, published at the time of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which became law in 1990. The question was why the Labour Movement should take up issues such as contraception, abortion and treatment of infertility, which were often seen as purely personal matters.

    My answer, on behalf of the (then) Manchester and Liverpool Labour Women’s Councils, was that it was our belief that decisions about whether or not to have children, how many to have, whether or not to have an abortion or use any of the technologies available to overcome or by-pass infertility, or to avoid having a child with disabilities, or to enable those of us who were lesbians to become parents, were all personal decisions to be taken by the individuals concerned, and not by the Church, the State or the Medical Profession.

    And since it is women who give birth to children and even now usually bear the main responsibility for child rearing, these decisions must primarily be theirs. As socialists we argue for women to have the maximum choice possible in the decisions that shape their lives.

    The campaign then – and still is now – was not just for legal rights, but for the practical means to realise them. In order for a working class woman to have the choices already available to richer women, she must have the economic means (a living wage or income), and necessary social arrangements, such as childcare and decent housing, so that she can choose to have a child. It means expanding the NHS, taking back control of the services that have been contracted out to the private sector, resisting any further attempts to privatise parts of the NHS, and running the NHS democratically so that women can have access to free and safe abortion, contraception, artificial insemination and IVF treatment.

    It means carrying out the research to find contraceptives that meet the needs identified by both women and men; research to enable women to have earlier abortions and make them safer; research into causes of infertility and its prevention; research into chromosomal and genetic disorders and their prevention; and research into products and services that would improve the lives of disabled people.

    All these things are entirely reasonable and technically possible; but they raise, in turn, important – essentially political – questions. Who does the research and in whose interests? The rubber goods manufacturers (for decades before the 1960s, clandestine or even illegal): the vulcanisation of rubber revolutionised birth control as well as road transport; but  nowadays research is dominated by the pharmaceutical industry. And of course the research is done to make a profit.

    The drug industry is one of the most research-intensive sectors: but it spends more on marketing and advertising than on research. That was the case when the last official UK Government report on the industry was published (The Sainsbury Report, HMSO, 1967) and it was even more the case, according to the most recent figures (OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators, annual, covering all OECD member countries in the year of publication.)

    Pressure to be first to market can lead to corner-cutting in testing: the most notorious case where this happened was Thalidomide, a tranquilliser that had been declared safe, and was explicitly prescribed, for pregnant women. But it caused major deformities in their babies who were, most notably, born either without some or all of their limbs or with major deformities in them.

    Although it was known by then that some drugs could cause foetal damage, it was not yet specifically a legal requirement to test for them, and the tests were not done. (Only the USA’s Food and Drug Adminstration refused to grant a licence for thalidomide to be prescribed, because the FDA official responsible insisted on having evidence on the foetal effects of the drug, which were not available.) Criticism of government “interference” in the affairs of business is very common in the United States (often framed as interference in the public’s right to choose – except women’s right to choose abortion). Today the FDA is still the butt of criticism of lack of freedom from government interference.

    The Warnock Report, on which the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was based, commented on the lack of research into causes of infertility. This is still the case to some extent, though knowledge in this area has been increasing since the discussions around the Warnock Report and the debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

    But we can be sure that thorough studies, once publicised and popularised, will lead to increased demands for improved health and safety at work; and for the replacement of industrial processes, chemicals and other materials causing infertility; and that responding to these demands would threaten profits. A thorough study would also raise questions about the under-funding of the NHS and the number of diseases that are not adequately diagnosed, or possibly not adequately treated, and which lead to infertility.

    The issue of women’s rights in reproduction is therefore a political and class question: not just because it is mainly working class women and men who are affected by lack of choice and unsafe working conditions, but also because the ability of all women to have a real choice will only be possible as a result of the struggle of working class women and men to change society. This means campaigning on reproductive rights as well as on better housing, higher wages and defence of the NHS. It especially means we must control the resources of society and organise them for need rather than profit.

    St Mary’s Department of Reproductive Medicine (DRM) – Summary of Background Briefing

    St Saint Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, was founded in 1790. Today it provides a wide range of medical services, mainly for women, babies and children. It is highly regarded for teaching and research, and has an internationally recognised Genomics Centre and Department of Reproductive Medicine (DRM). The DRM employs 70 staff and delivers clinical, laboratory and counselling services for about 3000 patients a year. Most of St Mary’s services and research activity is carried out in a building dating from the late 1960s. In 2009 paediatric services were transferred to the newly built Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital on the same site.

    The issue at the centre of the protest is that the DRM is housed in the Old St Mary’s Building (also on the same site) which dates from just after the death of Queen Victoria, and is in desperate need of repair. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) believes that relocation of DRM within the Trust could cost up to £10 million just in capital expenditure, and is talking about privatisation.

    DRM offers a fertility assessment and infertility service. Artificial Insemination and IVF are offered to women who may benefit, on referral by a GP. This can be both NHS funded and private – the latter for women for whom it is clinically appropriate but whose CCG would not fund the necessary cycles of treatment. It offers a fertility preservation service for patients who wish to preserve eggs or sperm while having medical treatment – eg for cancer – that might affect future fertility. DRM offers sperm-testing and specialist treatment for patients whose sperm has been identified as presenting fertility issues; and on the other hand post-vasectomy checks.

    An anonymous or by-arrangement sperm-donation service is also offered to lesbians, and to heterosexual women either without a partner or who cannot conceive with their partner’s sperm for any reason. The Department also offers a reproductive endocrinology service which focuses on the way in which hormones affect fertility; and specialist counselling to any of the patients using their services. DRM runs the national proficiency scheme involving distribution to other reproductive medicine labs across the country and checks that the results are consistent. Finally, the Department makes a significant contribution to fertility research in conjunction with the University of Manchester.

    In early March the Trust briefed all service staff that they would undertake a 12 month options appraisal exercise to identify whether the service should remain within the Trust or be re-commissioned elsewhere. (Since the pandemic this has been put back.) The unions argue:

    • that there would be significant capital costs involved in privatising the service, which would have to be borne by the hospital (eg to store embryos – the store would need to remain on the site and continue to be run, inspected and managed by MFT, because the cost of doing otherwise would be prohibitive).
    • that the service is unique in Greater Manchester, and to a large extent in the entire North West Region.
    • It has significant associated capital and operational costs so other NHS trusts are likely to be reluctant to bid to host the service.
    • The private sector may offer an option that appears to be cheaper, but offers a far lower level of service than that currently provided at St Mary’s – but the NHS might be obliged to accept the private bid, because it is lower.

    The unions are also concerned about the impact of any potential future privatisation of the service for many reasons, including:

    • St Mary’s offers specialist care to a number of people with Protected Characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, which might not be available under private sector provision.
    • The services offered by St Mary’s are highly specialised – Trafford CCG ring-fenced them on behalf of all the CCGs in Greater Manchester, not requiring them to participate in an IVF procurement exercise in 2019 for this reason.
    • The andrology service works with eg men with Cystic Fibrosis who are often infertile and need surgery if they wish to have a chance of creating a family, and another specialist service involving the only UK-based partnership with the long established FAIRFAX cryo-spermbank.
    • The National External Quality Assessment Scheme for reproductive medicine is currently based in the DRM laboratories. If DRM was closed or moved, this would need a new home, too.
    • The kind of research investment and relationship with academic institutions that St Mary’s has would not be replicated in private sector provision where profits have to be made.
    • Despite assurances from MFT, the unions believe that the terms and conditions of the staff in the private sector, if they had to move and could do so, would not be as good as those in the NHS under the Agenda for Change national pay system.
    • In other areas where NHS services have been privatised, there has often been an erosion of terms and conditions, and of collective bargaining, either through attrition over time or an aggressive stance by employers. Unions believe that this is a significant risk.
    • The cost to fee-paying patients is less than the alternative provision in the private sector, and for NHS patients, the NHS pays via CCGs around £4000 per IVF cycle at St Mary’s, but significantly more (£5-6,000) to private providers per cycle.
    • The DRM is part of St Mary’s and both are located on the MFT Oxford Road Campus next to the University of Manchester. Patients with co-morbidities and other conditions which may have an impact on their fertility and associated treatments, can benefit from the expertise and clinical care available within MFT close to their fertility treatment. At the same time, staff can benefit from the close proximity of other specialisms which may be relevant to a patient’s ongoing care.

    The Next Stage in the Campaign to Save St Mary’s

    There will be a public meeting (via internet) hosted by Keep Our NHS Public as below. Please join us via Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public (GM KONP)’s Facebook page.

    PUBLIC MEETING: No privatisation of Manchester’s fertility service!
    Monday, 20 July 2020 from 19:00-20:30

    https://www.facebook.com/events/280845443022548/

    The fertility service provided by the Department of Reproductive Medicine at St Mary’s hospital, Manchester, faces privatisation. According to reports, Manchester Foundation Trust announced earlier this year that the service would go over to a private company in 2021. This would be a disaster for the service and future patients.

    Now the Trust has begun an “options appraisal” over the future of the service. We insist that the #1 option must be keeping it public and keeping it where it is. We demand a public consultation so the people of Manchester have their say.

    Join our online public meeting to hear about the situation and how we can campaign to win. There will be discussion after the speakers, who are:

    Denise Andrews, Unison union rep, DRM
    Liz Holland, Unite the Union branch secretary, MFT
    James Bull, Unison union regional officer

    Pia Feig, a feminist perspective
    Chaired by Caroline Bedale, Greater Manchester Keep Our NHS Public and Greater Manchester Socialist Health Association.

    This will be a Facebook Live event broadcast through the event page.

    Mailing address for

    Keep Our NHS Public Greater Manchester

    c/o KONP national, Unit 12-13 Springfield House 5 Tyssen Street

    LondonE8 2LY

    United Kingdom

    Vivien Walsh (Greater Manchester SHA)

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    Integrated Care is the most recent re-naming of Accountable Care: the system currently being implemented in the NHS in England and which is derived from the US. This blog addresses issues arising from this implementation and whether or not Integrated Care is fit for public purpose.

    The narrative that comes from Westminster, echoed by parts of the media and even some campaigners, is that whilst cuts and closures, underfunding, understaffing and poor NHS management at the highest levels are all contributory factors to the problems the NHS faces, there is no overarching concern with Integrated Care itself.

    On the contrary, the bringing together of commissioners (purchases of services) and providers of services is viewed as getting rid of the hated ‘purchaser-provider split’ which is isolated in this narrative from all other structural components and becomes a proxy for the market system. On this point alone the move to Integrated Care is seen as a stepping stone to a return to public service. There is even some movement to reclaim ‘integrated’ as a term of public service.

    There are very good reasons why tackling this issue head on may be politically sensitive. Labour is keen to claim for itself not only the creation of the NHS (which it historically deserves) but a current role as the best defence against Trump. The Secretary of State for Health also claims that he will not allow the NHS to be in US-UK trade talks ‘on his watch’. That is understandable, but the love affair of the major UK political parties with United Health and Kaiser Permanente, amongst others, goes more than skin deep. US Integrated Care has been introduced into the NHS piecemeal over the last 30 years and we are now into the full adoption of an NHS ‘version’ being rolled out at speed. It’s here where the argument lies for politicians, think tanks and amongst campaigners . A question mark is raised over its origins and over whether it is irredeemably bad for the NHS or not.

    Our counter argument is threefold:
    1. The Integrated Care System does not in fact remove the ‘purchaser-provider split’, but merely changes it to a different type.
    2. The constraints put upon the NHS to meet the requirements of Integrated Care are set out in terms of restructuring the service in such a way that it will no longer meet the key tenets embedded in it from its creation: delivering all services for everyone within (mostly) easy reach.
    3. “One thing the community cannot do is insure against itself. What it can and must do is to set aside an agreed proportion of the national revenues for the creation and maintenance of the service it has pledged itself to provide.” Bevan’s statement worked on a national level while the ICS model creates a risk and reward system in which profit and loss are to be shared locally between the constituent players of 44 ‘local health economies’. This is entirely upending the basis for financing the NHS.

    Integrated Care
    The concept of Integrated Care is a longstanding method in the United States which was created to try and reduce the healthcare costs which are spiralling out of control. The most expensive part of any healthcare system anywhere in the world is acute care. It needs higher concentrations of staff per patient, more infrastructure – both buildings and equipment – and changes more rapidly than other parts of the service in its response to technological advances.
    It follows from an accounting point of view that any measures which can be taken to ‘reduce demand’ on the acute sector will reduce costs. Part of the cost reduction exercise in the US involves forming collaborative bodies (Accountable Care Organisations aka Integrated Care) which share profit or loss across the different constituent bodies – that is to say the insurance groups who provide the funding from their clients (state or private) plus various hospitals, GP practices and other health services. The profit and loss sharing is designed to provide incentives for keeping people out of hospital and in theory to keep them more healthy in the community.
    From the above, it is clear that purchasing and providing still exist within US Accountable Care and that it in no sense represents a return to the kind of planning required to run a public service NHS. The same is true of the system being implemented in England.

    Restructuring the NHS
    In order to attempt to meet the accounting criteria behind Integrated Care, the NHS’ historical provision of local GP family practices, local District General Hospitals that include full Accident and Emergency and other local services must be dismantled. Acute and emergency provision is calculated to be more cost effective if it is concentrated in hospitals that service a much larger population. Local hospitals then become satellites to the centralised major trauma hospital no longer offering the full service we are used to.
    GPs are being corralled into much larger units which may run the satellite hospital or work from large centralised clinics. Property made ‘surplus’ from these restructurings can be sold as a result.
    These changes are an intrinsic part of the development of Integrated Care. They are not optional, nor do they come about only as a result of the last nine years of below inflation funding.
    None of the descriptions above are based on assumptions. They all come from official NHS England and Sustainability and Transformation Partnership policy documents. The reality is evident on the ground.

    Risk and Rewards
    “Risk and reward sharing is underpinned by a theory of change that expects a provider to adjust its behaviour in response to financial incentives”
    Early adopters of the ACO model in 2012 in the US, known as Pioneers (see our report on ACOs for more details), were allowed to move to a full capitated budget. This represents the full transfer of risks from the commissioner to the ACO and it means the ACO has the incentive to cut costs in order to maximise its profit share from the budget. As in those early pioneer ACOs, NHS England has made it clear that it wishes to pass all financial risks to the Integrated Care Systems. But unlike the US model, an NHS ICS does not necessarily have to include acute hospital services in its provider collaboratives. As the greatest losses fall on acute hospital services this creates the possibility of a collaborative being formed only from those providers who can best make profits.
    Our report into ACOs explains how many of the participants in the early US pioneer programme failed to see many of the implications of a shared savings programme, seeing only its potential benefits. They later discovered that they had serious financial difficulties.
    This question of risk and reward sharing is one of the most important issues for an NHS provider and illustrates how they have moved from being government provided services to government commissioned services. Under this scheme an NHS provider could potentially suffer significant losses risking its financial viability to the point where it may collapse as a business.

    The failures of private sector providers, as we have seen in recent years, causes inconvenience for commissioners and loss of services for patients but the potential collapse of an NHS body would have far more serious ramifications. There is also the case where a majority of an ICS’ services are provided by private sector organisations which opens the door to profits flowing out of NHS funds. Furthermore the arrangements for how both risks and rewards will be shared between providers adds another layer of complexity to the transaction costs of the NHS. This, of course, provides yet more work for management consultancies, big accountancy firms and lawyers.

    What’s to be done?
    We fully appreciate the desire of campaigners to achieve victories in the face of what feels to be overwhelming odds. Each local victory does throw a welcome spanner in the works. However, to ignore the structural changes being brought in and not to recognise the part that each individual closure or downgrade plays in the overall pattern of change is to ignore the elephant in the room.
    That is why we think the slogan ‘Act Local, Think National’ should always be embedded in every campaign. It is important to understand that the national picture gives the corporate sector a major role in the future of the NHS as it has done increasingly over the last thirty years and that the model currently being adapted is specifically based on US Integrated Care.
    This is a system built fundamentally on business principles with competition and the profit motive in its DNA. This is not a system that lends itself to public ownership and provision serving the public interest.
    President Trump’s statement about the NHS being on the table in future trade talks set off a raft of responses including Jeremy Corbyn tweeting, ‘Labour will [..] ensure US private companies cannot lay a hand on our NHS. The NHS is not for sale’ and Matt Hancock saying, ‘not on my watch’. It has understandably provoked a lot of comments on social media and discussions in the press about the importance of keeping the US out of the NHS in the future. But the challenge is to change the conversation so that we openly oppose US corporate interests influencing our NHS now.

    Deborah Harrington

    Who We Are

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    Surveys of members of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and the British HIV Association (BHIVA) provide new evidence of pressure on over stretched sexual health services and a sector at ‘breaking point’

     

    Access to sexual health and HIV services has been dramatically reduced as a result of changes to the funding and organisation of sexual health services since 2013, according to the medical professionals providing care. Over half (54%) of respondents to a survey of members of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) reported decreases in the overall level of service access to patients over the past year, with a further 16 per cent saying that access had significantly decreased. In a parallel survey of members of the British HIV Association (BHIVA), three quarters (76%) of respondents said that care delivered to patients in their HIV service had worsened.

    With Public Health England (PHE) data showing a 13 per cent increase in attendance of sexual health services between 2013 and 2017 (PHE, June 2018,) it is not surprising that nearly 80 per cent of BASHH respondents (79%) said that they had seen an increased demand for services in the past 12 months. Budgetary pressure means that this demand cannot always be met: more patients are now either turned away or redirected to other parts of the health system.  Six in ten (63%) per cent of BASHH respondents said that they had to turn away patients each week, with 19 per cent saying that they were having to turn away more than 50 patients on a weekly basis. While most were offered the next available appointment, 13 per cent said that patients were referred to another sexual health provider and four per cent that they were redirected to primary care. Clinicians responding to the survey report that many of the patients who are being turned away have symptoms of potential infection.

     

    Reduction in prevention, cytology and mental health services

    Both surveys revealed significant reductions in services such as the delivery of HIV prevention activities, outreach to vulnerable populations, cervical cytology and psychosexual health services. Three quarters of BHIVA members (75%) said that there had been an impact on access to HIV prevention advice and condoms, with 63 per cent saying access had been reduced; 44 per cent of BASHH members said that HIV prevention services had decreased. Almost half (47%) of BASHH members reported reductions in the provision of cervical cytology functions, reflected by BHIVA members, who also said that cervical screening had been halved (reduced access reported by 49.5%).  This is of particular concern in the context of a fall in national cervical screening coverage and the higher risk of HPV related cancer in women with HIV.

    More than 40 per cent (42%) of BASHH respondents reported reduced provision of psychosexual health care, mirrored by a similar number (41%) of BHIVA members, who said that access to psychology input for HIV related mental health problems had been reduced. This is despite the higher risk of mental health issues the HIV population faces. Nearly half of BASHH members (47%) also said that care for vulnerable populations had reduced.

     

    STI screening and HIV testing

    More than 40 per cent (41%) of BHIVA members said that access to sexual health screening had been reduced, despite HIV positive people being at greater overall risk of sexually transmitted infections.  BASHH members gave a mixed response, with 29 per cent of respondents reporting reductions in STI testing in the past year and 27 per cent increased testing.  The BASHH response regarding HIV testing was similarly mixed, with 21 per cent saying there was a decrease and 26 per cent an increase.

    The BHIVA survey showed that it is becoming more difficult for people to test for HIV, with 35 per cent of respondents reporting that there is now reduced access to testing in their own location.  Although 58 per cent of services offered outreach testing, with a quarter of respondents (26%) saying that it was offered locally in another service, more than half (52%) said access to testing in outreach settings was also reduced.  Almost half (47%) of BASHH respondents reported increases in access to online testing in the last 12 months, but it is not yet available in all locations. Although some respondents were optimistic about its role in helping to manage the growing demand for services, others expressed concerns about poor implementation, and suggested it was taking the focus away from face-to-face services.

    Funding cuts have also drastically reduced the output of third sector organisations, such as charities and community groups, who have traditionally helped to plug gaps in services with HIV testing, advice and peer support. Nearly 40 per cent of BHIVA respondents said that peer support was no longer offered by their service, with 28 per cent of those that still do saying access to it had been reduced. 70 per cent said that overall the remaining third sector support had worsened, with services stripped back to basics or simply closed down completely.

     

    PrEP availability and reproductive health

    The roll-out of the PrEP programme through the IMPACT trial has led to increased availability.   Over 70 per cent (71%) of BHIVA respondents said that PrEP is now either available from their service or offered locally by another service (17%) and over 70 per cent (74%) of BASHH respondents reported increased delivery. However, provision remains mixed with 28 per cent of BHIVA respondents saying access is improving, 25 per cent saying it had been reduced, and 11 per cent saying PrEP was not currently on offer locally.

    At the same time almost a third (32%) of BASHH respondents reported decreased provision of reproductive health and contraception and a similar percentage (34%) of BHIVA respondents also reported reduced access to these services.

     

    Impact of separation of HIV and GUM on staff and services

    Changes since 2013 have in many areas led to previously fully integrated clinics that were able to provide a range of services from a single location now being divided between differently funded suppliers.  Patients, particularly people living with HIV, may not be willing or able to travel elsewhere and staff may not be able to access records from other services.

    Funding cuts have led to staff not being replaced with a knock-on effect to those remaining and to the level of service they can offer. For example, the loss of Health Advisers and nursing staff can limit support for patients.  More than a quarter (27%) of BHIVA respondents reported that access to partner notification has been affected, yet this is a key method of increasing testing of people at a higher risk of HIV transmission.  Although the majority of services (64%) still maintain counselling for the newly diagnosed, close to 30 per cent said that access is reduced.

    Staff morale has been affected, with more than 80 per cent (81%) of BASHH survey respondents saying that staff morale had decreased in the last year, with almost half (49%) reporting it had greatly decreased.  Respondents to both surveys cited the damaging impact sustained budget cuts were having on staff, as well as the pressures and stresses experienced by retendering, restructuring and the loss of experienced colleagues. Some describe the situation as being “at breaking point” and nearly all are worried about the future:  more than 90 per cent (92%) of BASHH respondents said that they were worried, or extremely worried, about the future delivery of sexual health care in England.

     

    Commented BASHH President, Dr Olwen Williams: “Providing high-quality free and open-access care for all those that need it has been the bedrock of sexual health in this country for over a century. Whilst we are doing our utmost to maintain standards in the face of record demand and dramatic increases in infections, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea in recent years, these surveys clearly show that continued cuts to funding are taking their toll. Current levels of sexual health funding are quite simply not sustainable and the pressures they are generating are having a seriously detrimental impact on the morale and wellbeing of staff. Without increased support to match the huge growth in demand, the consequences will likely be disastrous for individuals and our public health as a whole.”

    Added BHIVA Chair, Professor Chloe Orkin:“Despite the stated ambition of policy makers to reduce health inequalities this will not be possible without robustly funded, sustainable services. Our survey results provide clear evidence that we need to upgrade, not reduce, services if we are to support and protect vulnerable populations. We have made huge strides in the control of HIV, so it is particularly worrying to see that important aspects of HIV care, such as access to prevention services, testing and mental health support, have been reduced. Public Health England (PHE) figures show a 17 per cent fall in new diagnoses, which it attributes to large increases in HIV testing (PHE, September 2018.) It therefore makes no sense to make it more difficult for people to test, as shown by the reduced access to testing in clinics and outreach locations our members report.”

    ENDS

    Editor’s notes:

    1. Survey responses: The BASHH and BHIVA surveys were both conducted in August and September 2018. BASHH received 291 responses in total, of which 264 respondents were based in England. This press release summarises the responses provided by those members based in England.  BHIVA received 98 responses to the survey, 97 of which were from respondents based in England, which are summarised in this press release.
    2. The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH)is the lead professional representative body for those managing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV in the UK. It has a prime role in education and training, in determining, monitoring and maintaining standards of governance in sexual health and HIV care. BASHH also works to further the advancement of public health in relation to STIs, HIV and other sexual health problems and acts as a champion in promoting good sexual health and providing education to the public.
    3. The British HIV Association (BHIVA)is the leading UK association representing professionals in HIV care. Since 1995, it has been committed to providing excellent care for people living with and affected by HIV. BHIVA is a national advisory body on all aspects of HIV care and provides a national platform for HIV care issues. Its representatives contribute to international, national and local committees dealing with HIV care. It promotes undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing medical education within HIV care.

    For further information, please contact either: Simon Whalley, BASHH on 07506 723 324 or simon.whalley@mandfhealth.com or Jo Josh, BHIVA, on 07787 530 922 or jo@commsbiz.com.

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    Following the Judicial Review in London in July, NHS England quietly launched its promised public consultation on the Integrated Care Provider (ICP) Contracts on 4 August. The consultation closes on 26 October.  If the appeal granted at the other Judicial Review called for by 999 Call for the NHS in Leeds is successful, this ICP contract may yet be unlawful, but it is nonetheless essential that we respond to the feedback.

    The ICP consultation document is a daunting read for most of the public. However, Health Campaigns Together (HCT) has provided expert answers to all 12 points in the public feedback document. 

    HCT’s aim in providing these answers is to prevent flawed plans being adopted. They are seeking to prevent long-term contracts being signed that will undermine our NHS. This is in order to preserve any hopes of achieving a genuine integration of health and social care as public services, publicly provided free at point of use – and publicly accountable.

     

    A reminder on what’s happened so far: There have been two judicial reviews on the Accountable Care Organisations and these Integrated Care Provider (ACO/ICP) contracts. And the courts found in favour of the NHS. But one of the campaign groups, 999 Call for the NHS, has now been granted permission to appeal. 

    This is some very good news. But it also means NHS England is consulting on an ACO/ICP contract that may be unlawful. 

    NHS England knew full well that an appeal was a possibility. Although fully aware of this, on Friday 3rd August – the day Parliament and the Courts went on holiday – NHS England started a public consultation on the ACO/ICP contract. The consultation says that the Judicial Reviews had ruled in their favour. This consultation runs until 26 Oct.

     

    We all know that this ICP consultation needs to be combatted and stopped. But in the meantime, here’s all the information you need to fill in the consultation feedback.

    As stated, the judge in the London NHS Judicial Review said that the ACOs (now ICPs) should not be enacted until a lawfully conducted consultation was held, and any eventual ICP contract would have to be lawfully entered into.

    Since then, NHS England have moved swiftly and stealthily into gear, and you will find their monstrous ICP ‘consultation’ document at this link.

    And here is Health Campaigns Together on the subject at this link.

    As you see, the consultation document includes 12 points for feedback and Health Campaigns together has provided suggested responses to these points – very good responses too, I think. You’ll find them at this link.

    When you’re ready here is the direct link for public feedback to the document, just copy and paste from the Health Campaigns Together link above.

    As stated, there is a move afoot to get the consultation suspended until after the appeal granted to the 999 for the NHS has been concluded, but it’s very important to counter what will definitely be lots of responses from the allies of NHS England. Otherwise they will be able to hail the result as a democratic mandate.

    Health Campaigns Together say that it is OK to copy and paste HCT’s responses into the feedback boxes on the questionnaire, although if possible, it would be good if respondents could add a few tweaks of their own.

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    On 11 June 2018 the Common’s Health and Social Care Committee published the result of their inquiry into Integrated Care: organisations, partnerships and systems 

    Anyone who observes Sarah Wollaston will notice that from time to time she confounds expectations and raises concerns about what her party is doing in government, notably on her strongly worded letters to the Home Office on the treatment of immigrants within the NHS. Although her voting record shows a reluctance to translate strong statements into protest in the division lobby. There was, therefore, a glimmer of hope over her chairing of the committee when she insisted to Jeremy Hunt that the ACO process should be subject to full and proper consultation – to ensure that it complies with the law.  

    During the long process of privatising the NHS, there have been moments when the tide could have turned or at least the process could have been exposed to proper evaluation. The greatest and possibly the most disappointing of these moments was the pause before the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.   

    Could Sarah Wollaston’s committee have provided one of these moments? Possibly, but it didn’t. It has failed on every count. 

    1. It was framed to deceive 

    The report summary says, ‘Whilst there is not sufficient evidence that integrated care saves money or improves outcomes in the short term, there are other compelling reasons to believe it is worthwhile.,There have been positive early signs from the new care models about the benefits more integrated health and care services can bring to patients. 

    It goes on, ‘understanding of these changes has been hampered by poor communication …confusing acronym… poorly understood fuelled a climate of suspicion and missed opportunities to build goodwill for the co-design of local systems that work more effectively in the best interests of those who depend on services. 

    The summary sets out the terms of reference for the report. It suggests to the reader that what is in the body of the document is compelling evidence. It states that there are positive benefits from the system they have examined. And finally, it implies a dismissal of the concerns of campaigners on the basis that they are ill founded. It makes clear that such opposition can only arise from misunderstanding and the cumulative effect of those misunderstandings has been harm to patient care which a proper implementation would have had high on its own agenda. 

    1. It had a discriminatory attitude to its participants 

    There were two Professors of note in the Inquiry whose qualifications and expertise should have given them considerable weight, coming as they did from opposite sides of the divide on this issue. 

    Professor Chris Ham (along with his colleague Anna Charles) of The King’s Fund was a specialist advisor to the inquiry and the report declares his interests, ‘The King’s Fund is working to support Accountable Care Systems in England and some of the money for this work has been provided by NHS England’.   

    Chris Ham advised both New Labour and the Tories on Integrated Care. When New Labour ran its NHS Kaiser Beacon projects in 2003 he had a dual role both as advisor to the health department and academic assessor of the outcomes of the project. He is now the CEO of The King’s Fund. The Fund promotes Kaiser Permanente and its work as a role model for integrated care. He was also a key witness to the committee. Chris Ham was awarded a CBE in the June 2018 Birthday Honours List for services to the NHS.  

    Professor Allyson Pollock is the co-author of the NHS Reinstatement Bill and one of the claimants in the judicial review JR4NHS. She has been a consultant in Public Health medicine since 1986, has headed up Public Health Policy units at various prestigious universities and has served on the council of the British Medical Association. Her early work analysing the Private Finance Initiative exposed many of the flaws in the process which have since been accepted as standard. Her work lies in the realm of protecting the NHS as a public service.  

    When Simon Stevens gave his oral evidence, he was asked by committee member Luciana Berger about the risk of increasing privatisation in the NHS. He had prepared a response which included printed out articles by Allyson Pollock. Rather than addressing the current situation and any implications there might be for privatisation he simply chose to attack Allyson Pollock’s work personally. He refers to an article on Privatisation and Americanisation in the NHS. He uses the fact that Allyson has been writing continuously and has been monitoring the incremental steps towards privatisation as evidence that she is wrong.  

    He subsequently says, It is absolutely crucial that NHS care remains free and based on the needs of patients rather than ability to pay. There is nothing that has been proposed about the ability to join up the way health and social care services work that was not established by Parliament as far back as 2006, and in other places that has been working perfectly satisfactorily.”  

    He goes so far as to say, If Nye Bevan were sitting here now, I think he would be a strong advocate for the kind of integrated care systems and combined funding streams we are talking about.” 

    Whether or not the service is currently or historically working satisfactorily is not a rebuttal of whether or not it is being privatised. However, the report includes in section 40 a warning against removing choice and competition, ‘there is a danger of creating airless rooms in which you simply have one provider who is there for a huge amount of time. That clause is a statement against the basic principle of a publicly owned, publicly provided and publicly managed NHS. 

    One member of the committee Andrew Selous MP spoke at the 23 April debate in Westminster Hall on privatisation. In the oral evidence session with Simon Stevens Andrew Selous asked the first question which was, “If we can have in our minds a lady in her mid‑80s, with a number of long‑term conditions, perhaps living on her own with her family around the country, could you explain as clearly as you can how the changes you are making will improve care for this elderly lady in her mid‑80s living on her own?” This reference is to ‘Mrs Smith’, a fictional character used by Chris Ham in his analysis of the Torbay NHS Kaiser Permanente Beacon project. 

    In the privatisation debate Andrew Selous praised Chris Ham as an independent expert on the NHS. By contrast he referred to Allyson Pollock as well-meaning but misguided and used Simon Stevens’ attack on her as evidence of her lack of credibility. It’s a distinction which is woven through the report and embedded in the framing: the supportive and friendly witness is, by definition, independent, authoritative, expert; the critics, on the other hand, know not of what they speak, are misguided and misinformed. What concerns they have is portrayed as the result of poor information management and a mistaken attempt on behalf of NHS England and the STP leaders to keep plans out of the public domain until they are completed.  

    There is a high-level of cognitive dissonance over this issue as the report fails to infer from the secrecy, leaks and cuts that there is a sound and rational basis for concern. For example, they accept [Section 60], ‘In the run up to the final deadline coverage about the secrecy of plans continued and was accompanied by reports of plans were leaked to the press, in which the focus of the coverage was on proposals to close services, reduce bed capacity and reconfigure hospitals. The STP brand as a consequence was politicised. Chris Ham said, “sadly STPs got off to a very bad start, a very difficult start because of that.  

    An inquiry should surely legitimise those questions not seek to undermine them. It may disagree with them and may give good reason for disagreeing but for committee members to publicly cast doubt on the professionalism, expertise and authority of that legitimate challenge is unacceptable. 

    1. It was highly selective in its evidence and timid in its conclusions 

    The call for written evidence was based on the committee’s previous inquiry which had been scheduled to take place before the General Election was called in 2017. The original inquiry asked whether Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) were working but by the time the committee heard the oral evidence the name of the inquiry had been changed and questions focused on the benefits of integrated care and the practical steps needed to implement it.  

    The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, representing one of the areas most significantly affected by the Five Year Forward View and all its subsequent manifestations, put in a written submission which not only challenged the evidence on which the assumptions for changed were based but also were highly critical of the language used in such consultation as had taken place.  

    Several submissions came from NW London, where the four local councils organised an independent review into the changes in their area in 2015. Their highest priority was where the cuts were falling and what impact it was having on communities with high levels of deprivation. The submission from Hammersmith and Fulham Council itself was particularly strongly worded, calling the consultation ‘stage-managed’, ‘tokenistic’ and ‘geared towards achieving a set outcome’. They go so far as to state that what has been done actually ‘flies in the face of evidence and feedback received from social care providers’. 

    With this background the Committee had little choice but to include some campaigners and challengers to the process to give oral evidence. Tony O’Sullivan from KONP gave examples from his own work of what integrating services really means and how they take a long time and dedicated work to achieve. It bears little resemblance to the top-down organisational and budget merging of ‘Integrated Care’. Allyson Pollock argued on the technical details of accountability and the legal framework.  

    Although the terms of reference nominally remained the same, the direction of questioning at the oral sessions was undoubtedly pointed more towards whether integration was a good thing and how it could be made to work rather than examining the problems of the STP process.  

    The inquiry sets out its stall as having the patient at its heart. Yet most of this evidence is absent from its report. The concerns arising from the written submissions was largely dealt with under conclusions such as this in section 64:  

    STPs got off to a poor start. The short timeframe to produce plans limited opportunities for meaningful public and staff engagement and the ability of local areas to collect robust evidence to support their proposals. Poor consultation, communication and financial constraints have fuelled concerns that STPs were secret plans and a vehicle for cuts. These negative perceptions tarnished the reputation of STPs and continue to impede progress on the ground. National bodies’ initial mismanagement of the process, including misguided instructions not to be sharing plans, made it very difficult for local areas to explain the case for change. 

    The oral evidence was dealt with in a more tortured and convoluted way. The report is a mass of contradictions. Far from presenting ‘compelling evidence’ it trips over itself trying to avoid the evidence staring it in the face:  

    • They agree with Allyson Pollock that ACOs need primary legislation. But they would like to trial a few first – how can a trial be run of accountable bodies which need primary legislation, without the legislation?  
    • They agree that the success of integration depends on the strength of local inter-disciplinary working, but accept that the 44 ‘footprints’ which are the boundaries of the Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships are not all well drawn and leave areas incoherent. They make no recommendation to address this.  
    • They accept the need to address the NHS’ financial constraints then admit there is no evidence integrated care does this. Indeed, far from being compelling, the evidence gives their claims the flimsiest of support. 

    As an extraordinary rider to the Inquiry’s title change the report effectively dismisses the STPs as no longer having any relevance, notwithstanding the amount of money that has been spent on them and that they were a critical step in the implementation of the 5 Year Forward View. Section 92 says that the Partnerships which have succeeded them are ‘fragile’ and must not (be) overburden(ed) by increasingly making them the default footprint for the delivery of national policies’ despite that being precisely their purpose. 

    In short, these contradictions, inconsistencies and timidity means it ends up as a report of no consequence. It tries not to offend but to our mind it fails even that very limited objective. Indeed, there are times when it is hard to supress a laugh as the report says, time and time again, that there is no evidence in support of this plan – but they support it anyway. 

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    Government policy on Accountable Care Organisations remains confused and confusing. The Health Select Committee’s recent grilling of Simon Stevens and Stephen Barclay shed little light on critics’ concerns, while the relative responsibilities of the Accountable Care Organisation and its commissioners remain murky, and subject to legal proceedings.

    What is clear, however, is that Accountable Care Organisations will be responsible for deciding most of the issues that really matter to the public in the provision of health and care services. This will be even more the case if commissioning is on the basis of long term health outcomes. It will be Accountable Care Organisations which take the difficult decisions about thresholds for treatment that we know are currently pushing more and more patients to seek private treatment to avoid lengthening NHS waiting lists.

    Map of Accountable Care Organisations

    1. South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw
    2. Frimley Health and Care
    3. Dorset
    4. Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes
    5. Nottinghamshire
    6. Blackpool and Fylde Coast
    7. West Berkshire
    8. Buckinghamshire
    9. Greater Manchester (devolution deal)
    10. Surrey Heartlands (devolution deal)

    Accountable Care Organisations will also be hybrid providers of both health and care, and therefore, able to redefine various care packages and draw on both health and social care legislation to legitimise how they are to be funded. Simply spouting that healthcare will remain free is no reassurance at all; there are many services at the hospital/community interface that can be classed as either health or care, depending on who is providing them.

    Yet because ACOs are to be established by a commercial procurement process their legal form cannot be specified. They can be partnerships that include private health and care providers, and private insurance and property companies, which will make money from charging. We could easily end up in a situation where it is in the financial interest of an Accountable Care Organisation to progressively reduce care provided free from public funds, in favour of means tested care packages.

    The commercial partners within the Accountable Care Organisation would no doubt step forward to fill the gaps so created with services and offers of insurance policies. This is not some fevered fantasy – look what is already happening in dental care. And just because Manchester and Dudley, the two frontrunner ACOs, are NHS based does not remove this threat for even the near future. Other vanguards make great play of their public private partnerships.

    Nor does the recent assurance from David Hare, chief executive of NHS Partners Network, that private providers “are not expecting to be commissioned” to take on responsibility for running any Accountable Care Organisation contracts “in the immediate future” address the real threat. And indeed, why should he?

    The clear and present danger posed by the Accountable Care Organisation model on offer is that it can import organisations focused on profit making into the heart of NHS decisions about who provides what, and at what cost to patients and families, and cement those arrangements in place for 10-15 years.

    History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes

    The story of the Private Finance Initiative should make us pause and reflect. Originally sold as a pragmatic public-private partnership to build and run much needed hospitals, the recent National Audit Office report confirmed that not only has the NHS paid well over the odds for many projects and been fleeced on related services, including insurance and fees for external advisors, but now finds itself tied to long term service contracts that it can’t afford, but can’t afford to get out of.

    This sorry history should surely convince us that if there are opportunities to profit from the NHS, they will be ingeniously and enthusiastically exploited by those whose priority is profits rather than public service. Yet the Accountable Care Organisation contract will create these same irreversible long term opportunities.

    It might make sense to seek fox advice on henhouse security, but not to put them in shared charge of the coop under a management agreement that cannot be reversed, even when chickens mysteriously start to go missing.

    There is a simple way to deal with these concerns. Accountable Care Organisations should be set up as democratically accountable public bodies. Scotland and New Zealand have done this. The argument that legislation is impossible in the present climate has been used to justify introducing complex long term commercial contracts, with all their attendant dangers, as the only way out of the fragmented commercial morass that successive NHS Acts have created.

    But at the recent Health Select Committee hearing, Labour MPs offered cross-party cooperation on simple legislation to block these dangerous loopholes. That both the minister for health and Simon Stevens ducked this offer may simply reflect a disintegrating policy on autopilot.

    In the wake of Carillion and the PFI it seems scarcely believable that such long term contracts are seen as the answer to anything. The alternative of simple legislation needs to be vigorously pursued. Accountable Care Organisations are far too dangerous to introduce without water-tight safeguards.

    Article first published by the Health Service Journal

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    The interim Parliamentary Review, published in July 2017, observed the the Welsh NHS and social care has been subject to many well-considered reviews since devolution. They all shared the common fate of not to achieving transformational change as they never successfully made the transition from the page to the front line. In an attempt to address this it recommended that Welsh health and care services should concentrate on a limited number of significant innovations, evaluate the outcomes and implement the most successful ones with a sense of urgency.

    Despite this the Final Report (January 2018) itself produces ten “high level”recommendation (with many supplementary “supporting actions”) over-ridden by what the Review calls “The Quadruple Aim” of improving population health, improving the quality and experience of care, better engagement with the workforce and increase value for investment through innovation, elimination of waste and implementation of best practice. This represents a massive “whole system” challenge and one wonders if this Final Report will itself become a victim to the fate as its predecessors and for the same reasons.

    At the heart of the final report is the challenge of delivering a health and care service that will meet the growing pressures it faces despite the continuing under-resourcing of public services in a era of never ending austerity. The unstated conclusion is that the high level recommendations linked to the Quaduple Aims will achieve the type of efficiencies that are needed to deliver a sustainable service.

    Everything suggests that this is a heroic assumption. Health care funding has historically grown at an annual rate of over 3.5%. Annual efficiency gains in excess of 1.5% are exceptional despite desktop exercises which claim that a vastly greater efficiency improvement potential. Despite the very many useful insights and recommendations that the Final Report provides there is nothing in it that would indicate that it will deliver where others have failed.

    But even if this report is not capable of delivering everything there are many key recommendations that the Welsh Government needs to take on board to improve health and social care performance in Wales.

    The Final Report strongly reiterates the views of SHA Cymru and the Nuffield Trust that the Welsh Government needs to be more actively involved in the executive delivery of policy as well as the setting of the strategic direction for health and social care in Wales. While it is crucially important that Welsh Health Boards deliver locally sensitive services their relatively small size make them captive to many “localist” vested interests which makes it almost impossible for them to implement the strategic decisions which are required in Wales.

    Local health boards seem to be have an disproportionate focus on acute services. SHA Cymru has pointed out that following the abolition of the internal market in Wales most of the health board senior management came from acute NHS trust backgrounds which very much flavoured the direction that policy would flow and that non-executive health board members were failing to provide sufficient challenge to this approach. This was not helped by the failure of the Welsh Government itself to emphasise importance of a holistic approach. And as budgets became ever tighter it has become even more difficult to move the agenda beyond the immediate priorities of firefighting the latest high profile crisis.

    In response the Final Report makes a number of recommendations including that the Welsh Government should use a range of initiatives and financial incentives to mould the activities of health boards. This intention is laudable but it is arguable if the recommendations will be sufficient to achieve the required outcomes.

    Considerable emphasis is placed on the importance of delivering more cohesive health and social care. The introduction of Integrated Medium Term Plans are welcomed but are seen as been being excessively verbose and mistaking policy quantity for quality. Many obstacles remain to greater integration with the report not acknowledging the fundamental problems that exist between a free or means-tested service and the substantial cultural differences that now exist between sectors that are delivered though the NHS and local government. The progress that Local Service Boards and Regional Partnership Boards are achieving is recognised and the Social Services and Well-being Act (2012) has provided an important legislative catalyst for change. But the Review does not ask if the Welsh Government needs to consider whether a more prescriptive legislative approach is what is needed to achieve the more accelerated progress that is needed.

    Wales needs a shared infrastructure to start to make this happen. IT systems have to reach across all health and social care. Common, shared pathways with national standards are needed while still capturing both local and individual sensitivities. This will require Welsh Government investment to achieve the qualitative change and staff skilling to make it happen.

    Compared to the Interim Report more attention is given to health inequalities though it still remains a fairly peripheral issue in the overall scheme of things. The wider importance of public health measures are emphasised in passing through this is outside the Review’s terms of reference. Health boards are urged to make greater use of epidemiological data to inform and to recognise the importance of very early years in their planning but there are no practical recommendations on how “to follow the money” or to identify and evaluate the processes and outcomes that will diminish the effect of the continuing “inverse care law”.

    There is a very strong emphasis on the need to use the patient experience to measure service quality and inform the planning process. Linked to this is the need to involve clinical and other front line staff. It is vital to empower individuals and communities to achieve a good health and well-being and it recognised that those with the greatest need and who are most disadvantaged are often most likely to find this difficult to achieve. This is a task where health boards and local authorities could usefully work together to achieve the best results.

    Most of what is in this Final Report is highly commendable though it is much broader in scope than the streamlined, targeted and readily implementable actions that the Interim Report felt was needed. Equally it is totally unrealistic to believe that it will achieve the step change in Welsh and social care performance that obviate the need for substantial public service investment in both services.

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