We look at the NHS Future Forum's recommendations to Government on how the Health and Social Care Bill might be improved, following the "listening exercise". Given the resounding opposition from many at the frontline of health in relation to this controversial Bill, we have awaited the recommendations with interest to see whether they amount to a quick polish or a complete overhaul.
The Health and Social Care Bill has barely been out of the press since its first reading on 19 January 2011. On 6 April 2011 the Government launched a "listening exercise" on how the Bill might be improved, which was due to report at the end of May. The NHS Future Forum was employed to oversee this exercise.
The NHS Future Forum is a group of clinicians, patient representatives, voluntary sector representatives and others from the health field, including frontline staff, led by Professor Steve Field. It is intended to drive the process of engagement with staff, patients and communities and will continue to serve this purpose after the listening exercise.
Given the resounding opposition from many at the frontline of health in relation to this controversial Bill, we have awaited the recommendations with interest to see whether they amount to a quick polish or a complete overhaul.
The Forum reported today, 13 June 2011, to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health on what they have heard on the following four themes:
The report has had a mixed reception with some seeing the recommendations as unrealistic and unclear, while others commended the Forum for getting to the point on competition and private providers.
On the basis of the listening exercise the Forum made 16 key recommendations, including:
The Forum’s recommendations will now be considered by the Government and their response issued tomorrow.
These recommendations have real implications for those providing health services if they are implemented; however at this stage, we are left with more questions than answers. Will commissioning consortia be required to include specialist doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals as members under their constitutions? How will consortia be deemed “ready” to take on their full range of responsibilities? Also, we are still no clearer as to what will happen to the NHS estate.
Although the recommendations would significantly water down the Health and Social Care Bill regarding competition and Monitor's role, it is still clear that the landscape of the NHS is changing. The emphasis is now on moving away from the rhetoric of competition to a landscape based on collaboration, particularly between health providers and local authorities.
There is a desire for the NHS to be independent from politics, but given that the NHS is such a big political issue, how this will be achieved whilst ensuring accountability remains is unclear.
One of the overwhelming themes of the Bill has been that it has all happened in a rush … this is clear from the NHS Future Forum Report which explains the need for time. However, as acknowledged by Professor Steve Field, the uncertainty that this Bill has created has left the NHS feeling paralysed and unable to move forward. This uncertainty has also led to talented management and staff leaving the NHS, which is an organisational risk in itself. If a lack of clarity remains following the Government’s response (due tomorrow), it is difficult to see how NHS organisations can stem the tide.
Our commercial team has a breadth and depth of health law experience and has helped health bodies through several NHS restructures. We would be happy to provide you with a more detailed summary of what the announcements may mean for you or discuss how you can best prepare for the changes ahead.