Tag: NHS

Hunt’s agenda

The ideology of health care provision.

 

 

Amid the junior doctors strike of 2016, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt was embroiled in a conflict with the BMA over doctors’ contracts designed to address a 7day NHS. This is the surface issue but sits upon a deeper ideological conflict, one that many of the doctors will be unaware of but will suspect, especially if they have read Alysson Pollock’s works on the privatisation and corporatisation of the NHS. Hunt argued he has a ‘mandate’ to introduce a 7 day NHS and perhaps realises that if this policy cannot be introduced, the balance of power over the future of the NHS will swing back towards the BMA and other health professional groups. The irony is that the BMA opposed the introduction of the NHS back in 1948 but now is one of the strongest supporters. Since 2012 however, the NHS has been dismantled and been replaced with privatised and corporatized service provision, with ‘patient choice’ and ‘patient safety’ being used as the ideological veil which masks the corporate face. People have not noticed this detail because so far ‘free at the point of delivery’ is still in place, but this principle, along with universal and comprehensive cover, is under threat. The government remain the almost monopoly purchaser of health services on our behalf but for how long? The care home crisis points in the direction of travel. This will be withdrawal of state funding and reliance on private provision which will not be ‘free at the point of delivery’.

 

 

 

In 2005 ‘Direct Democracy – an agenda for a new model party’ was published, the authors include the current health secretary Jeremy Hunt. It is not government policy and does not represent the full range of conservative views. The Tory party itself is home to those of a ‘one nation’ persuasion who mix ideas of ‘noblesse oblige’ with a modicum of a social welfare, safety net, public service ethos. It is also home to ‘neoliberalism’ rooted in anti State sentiment based on freedom of the individual and free market economics. This ideology can be clearly seen in the 2012 book ‘Britannia Unchained – Global lessons for growth and prosperity’ which argues for further free market economics based on a bonfire of employment laws. The book suggests:

 

“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

 

This one quote conveys the disdain neoliberals have in general for those less well paid, less “successful” and less powerful than themselves. Boris Johnson’s speech in 2013 on the impossibility of equality being based on differences in IQ, implied some people are too stupid to get ahead. This individualises issues, while ignoring structures of class, gender, ethnicity and privilege. He said:

 

And for one reason or another – boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and god-given talent of boardroom inhabitants – the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever. I stress: I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

 

Two ideas are core here: that the working class and the poor are so because they are more lazy and stupid than the ruling class, and that the answer to this is to increase competition and to use inequality as incentives for personal improvement. Of course said like that to the electorate, it would seriously threaten voter support. Instead the discourse of market efficiency, effectiveness and choice is used to justify privatization and corporatization of public services. The message to the public is clear: take responsibility for education, health, social care and housing. It is down to individuals and families to provide by working hard and being prudent.

 

The arguments over the NHS have to be seen within this wider context. At heart, many in the current Tory party viewed the state run NHS as anathema. As such they have succeeded in dismantling the post war structure of the NHS following the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This allowed for private providers to bid for the provision of health services but keeps in place, for now, principles such as ‘free at the point of delivery’.

 

According to Alysson Pollock, the Health and Social Care Act 2012:

 

  1. Removed the duty of the Secretary of State for health to secure and provide health care for all.
  2. Introduced US style insurance schemes.
  3. Gives the secretary of state legal powers to create a market, allows providers to pick and choose which patients will get care, services to be provided and what will be charged for.

 

A market has been introduced into health service delivery, and markets operate through risk selection and appraisal resulting in fragmentation of provision. That is to say a market provider needs to pick and choose which patients are profitable in competition with other providers. We now have clinical commissioning groups modelled on insurance based lines. Those with high risk or multiple needs will be expensive to provide care for.

 

The ‘NHS’ is now fragmented in which:

 

  1. Services are broken up and put out to tender to commercial companies.
  2. Commercial shareholders have new legal powers to decide who gets care, what the get and what they pay for.

 

This current state of affairs is not enough for neoliberal thought. So what is the vision of this group of neoliberal Tories? How did this happen?

 

Direct Democracy argues:

 

“Several other countries operate political systems based on localism and direct democracy. Two outstanding examples – one much smaller than the United Kingdom and one many times larger – are Switzerland and the United States. In their different ways, both states respect the principles of the dispersal of power, the direct election of public officials and the use of the referendum as a legislative tool. Our proposals for the devolution of power directly to the citizen – notably in the fields of education and health care – have also been successfully trialled abroad, often in unlikely places. No less corporatist a state than Sweden has introduced a form of school voucher, while almost every state in Europe, at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, now provides for an element of health insurance”.

 

This goes to the heart of the matter, note how the US and the Swiss are held up as models. The principles of localism and direct democracy are invoked as justifications hiding their argument and belief about market mechanisms. The United States is a beacon for the dispersal of power? One cannot expect anything other than this nonsense from neoliberals, wilfully ignorant as they surely must be of the work of C Wright Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Jurgen Habermas, David Harvey, Thomas Picketty, Graham Scambler, and Yanis Varoufakis? This also ignores the literature on social inequalities and inequalities in health and the social and political determinants of health. At this point we must also point to the wealth of feminist and post-colonial literature on ‘power’. In short it is an invocation of bourgeois patriarchal perspective on the exercise of power which blinds them to actuality.

 

As for Switzerland, the OECD reports that compared to the UK’s 9.3 % of GDP, the Swiss pay 11.4%. The UK used to pay under 6% but has seen a rise, not totally due to actual health spending but to cater for administration and profit for private companies. The US spends 16.9% (OECD 2014) and has introduced ‘Obama care’ to address the plight of uninsured americans. Obama care is an outcome of class struggle which has been hotly contested in the ‘land of the free’.

 

 

 

‘Direct Democracy’ claims to hold to three principles:

 

  1. Decisions should be taken as closely to the people they affect.
  2. Law makers should be directly accountable.
  3. The citizen should enjoy maximum freedom from state control.

 

 

On the face of it who would argue with that? Certainly not anarchists, socialists or libertarians. The problem is that these principles exist within a social and historical context, one characterised by imbalances of power along class, gender and ethnic lines and this cannot deal with the reality on the ground. Hunt et al are blind to the context in which ‘men of wealth buy men of power’, a world in which the capitalist class executive and the political power elite exercise a new class/command dynamic which neoliberal ‘reforms’ ushered in since about the 1980’s especially in the US and UK.

 

Yanis Varoufakis (2016) clearly discusses the effects of such things as the “Nixon Shock’ on the post war global financial settlement, the outcome being that the ‘strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. Global health corporations need new markets and looked to the UK’s NHS as a source of rich pickings. This is the context in which Hunt’s bourgeois democracy operates.

 

  • Decisions about who provides health care, what health care looks like and where it is provided are taken by unelected clinical commissioning groups operating within a profit driven market context.
  • Patients do not have an electable secretary of state who has a statutory obligation to provide health care services.
  • Freedom from state control for health service provision has morphed into control via corporate decision making.

 

 

Direct Democracy (2005) argues:

 

‘The problem with the NHS is not one of resources. Rather it is the system remains centrally run, state monopoly designed over half a century ago’ (p74).

 

Clearly this is a statement that ‘the system’ needs to go. The resource issue in the context of increasing demands and costs is brushed aside. This remark now looks questionable at best in 2016.

 

“We should fund patients either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice. Those without means would have their contributions supplemented or paid for by the State.” (p74).

 

Holding on to a notion of ‘free at the point of delivery’ implied here, it is clear that private provision is to be introduced. The language is anodyne, context free, taking no notice of what private provision might look like, who would provide it and what the consequences of the inevitability of a market might be. The State at least has a role in providing for the poor. The writers of this document are part of the political power elite, or may wish to be, and the coherence of interests with the corporate/capitalist class executive are hidden. Those who sell insurance have not been lobbying for this change then? A bit of research into who benefits from this change might prove insightful. Are there links between corporate interest and the politicians who are driving the changes?

 

Hunt et al feared the NHS would only be second to the US in terms of % of GDP spent. This has not occurred. They report a study ranking the UK 18 of 19 countries. This is selective in the extreme, and is now way out of date.

 

Many of the critiques they evoke of the NHS are a result of the rise of new public management, or ‘managerialism, introduced into the system by previous governments both New Labour and Tory. For about three decades managerial control, targets and distrust of professionals have eroded the ability of the NHS to be the best in the world.  The judgment about the efficiency and effectiveness of health services partly depends on what criteria are being used to judge them. The % spend of GDP is a crude figure as it hides a plethora of costs and profits.

 

Other measures of success could include universality of access, comprehensiveness of cover, mortality and morbidity outcomes, and the publics’ safety and satisfaction.

 

Mark Britnall has written ‘In search of the Perfect Health System’ (2015) of the complexity of comparing health systems. Britnall is no Tory ideologue and describes his approach as more brown mud than blue sky thinking:

 

He also wrote in 2011 before the 2012 Act:

 

“[o]f course, the vast majority of care – quite rightly in the UK context – will always be provided by public sector organisations (currently, about 95% of it) and will be paid out of taxation” and “[t]he issue of competition, which now seems to be conflated with privatisation, is unhelpful and misleading and, at best, only a small part of reform. Competition can exist without privatisation and the NHS can maintain its historic role in funding care while dealing with a richer variety of providers – public sector, social enterprise and private organisations”.

 

This 2011 comment predated the 2012 Act and can be seen as a statement of intent than actuality on his part. In 2010 there was some controversy over his statements in the US about private provision.

 

One area in which private provision is facing severe challenges is the care home sector.

 

Roy Lilley, writes a daily blog, and has considerable experience in the health service and with private sector organisations. He is no left wing radical. He writes in ‘They don’t matter’ (3rd May 2016) that success in private provision in the community has been ‘patchy’, citing Circle’s loss of £5 million and the paying of another £2 million to get out of the Hinchinbrooke contract, while SERCO and Bupa ‘bailed out’ of provision leaving Virgin clinging on. He argues that the private sector can be nimble and quick to adapt, but of course needs to make a profit.

 

However, the largest care home provider, Four Seasons, is in talks to ‘restructure its debt’ as they face a 39% drop in profits. Most of their ‘customers’ have their fees paid by social services. This amounts to some local authorities paying £385 per week which is just not enough. The living wage is also an issue for them, they have over 30,000 staff but with no way of adjusting prices to pay for the increase and with no operating surplus. It has a debt of £510 million. If Four Seasons go broke they have 450 care homes at risk.

 

The bottom line is that health and social care costs money. There is not enough money in the system to pay for the care required. Some private families are paying £1,250 per week. Company Watch data which covers 20,000 homes, indicates that there is a funding black hole of half a billion pounds. This is market failure due to inadequate funding by design. It is almost as if the government is deliberately forcing people to find the money themselves either through savings, insurance or property while state funding through local authorities is slowly wound down.

 

Mark Britnall’s approach is scholarly, based in experience managing health care organisations and a deep knowledge and overview of many health systems. However, is Britnall sufficiently aware of the political economy of neoliberalism and its agenda for health?  Roy Lilley’s highlighting of the care home crisis clearly shows the political, austerity driven nature of the issue.

 

‘Direct Democracy’ and ‘Britannia Unchained’ are ideological approaches to health and social care. Whether Hunt has the temper for addressing Britnall’s insights or whether he still stands by the document he co-wrote is anyone’s guess. However, I know where the smart money would go. His face down of the doctors is more to do with power and who exercises it rather than the future of the health service as we knew it. If the neoliberals can get away with it, then free at the point of delivery will be severely challenged perhaps using spurious arguments stigmatising drug users, alcoholics, smokers, the obese, self harmers, self inflicted sports injuries, prostitutes, the promiscuous and Johnson’s ‘stupid’ as a wedge driven between the deserving and the undeserving ill. The care home crisis indicates that older people are ignored and the costs increasingly privatised as the state withdraws, or should we say abdicates, support. The NHS was to socialise risk, to spread its cost across the whole population. Instead we are rapidly moving towards individualising risk and private insurance based provision as the state withers away.

 

NHS Dissatisfaction levels are perhaps not yet high enough to embolden the political power elite to further uncouple NHS principles from actual delivery, but they might be going in the right direction.

How satisfied with the NHS are we? The British Social Attitudes Survey has been tracking satisfaction levels since 1983. In 2011 it reached the highest it had been (64%), much higher than the 39% recorded in 2001. In 2000 there was a large rise in funding and according to John Appleby (Kings’ Fund) the change upwards might reflect that extra funding. In 2010 the rate had hit 70%, while in 2015, 65% stated they were quite or very satisfied, with dissatisfaction at a low of 15%. Now, in 2016, dissatisfaction rates have hit a 23% ‘actively dissatisfied’.

 

For trends see the graph at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35527318)

 

 

So, should we read anything into these figures? The “NHS’ is a complex set of organisations and services, and is affected by such external factors such as social care. It is probably foolish to peg changes in attitudes to any one factor (such as funding or waiting times). The survey does provide some information as to why those who are dissatisfied say so:

 

The stand out reason is taking too long to see a GP (60%). Interestingly only less than 5% state ‘stories on TV or radio’. However, 6 reasons above that are also gained by reading the press, watching TV as well as being supplemented by actual experience of friends and family.

See reasons at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35527318)

 

The figures cannot be directly tracked to funding or political party. The background of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has not on the face of it made a difference to people’s attitudes. The high rate of satisfaction in 2010 of 70% has dropped to around 60% since, while dissatisfaction has only just started to rise again from the 2011 level.

 

If you want to change the way the NHS is funded, this survey is still an issue. Too many people like it the way it is, “free at the point of delivery” is a possible reason. Social Care (means tested) ranks the lowest on these satisfaction scores and might indicate that funding is a real issue for people.

 

 

The context for this includes 4 assumptions held by governments over the past 25 years: Neena Modi in the Guardian writes:

 

  • Personal responsibility for health supersedes government responsibility.
  • Markets drive efficiency.
  • Universal healthcare is unaffordable.
  • Healthcare is a business.

 

For example, Christopher Smallwood wrote ‘Free at the point of use’ has had its day and argues for private health insurance.

 

Each one of these assumptions are questionable and draw upon a certain view of the role of the state vis a vis the private individual (neoliberalism). Alongside that there are profit making health care organisations looking for new business opportunities that the relatively closed NHS used to block. Graham Scambler’s ‘Greedy Bastards Hypothesis’ suggests that health inequalities are the unintended consequences of the actions of a core cabal of the ‘capitalist executive’ who, aided by the ‘political power elite’ engage in business activities aimed at capital accumulation which includes commercialisation of health services for profit. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 provided an opportunity for just such private sector involvement. A problem for the private sector is that much demand for services comes from an increasingly ageing population whose needs are difficult to make a profit from.

 

 

There are very real discussions to be had about the sort of health service we want and the principles that should underpin it. There is now increasing argument for a rolling back on its founding principles of universal access, comprehensive coverage, equity of service and free at the point of delivery all in the name of ‘affordability’ underpinned by an ideology that deplores public sector provision. Dissatisfaction levels are perhaps not yet high enough to embolden the political power elite to further uncouple NHS principles from actual delivery, but they might be going in the right direction.

 

 

 

For discussion on health services globally see:

 

  1. Which country has the best healthcare system?
  2. Britnall, M (2015) In Search of the Perfect Health System. Palgrave macmillan .

 

 

 

 

 

NHS Funding – Calls to introduce charges

The Kings Fund have been looking at the future of the NHS and how it will be funded. One of those invited to discuss the issue with Kings is the right wing think tank ‘Reform‘.
Roy Lilley stated that Professor Alan Maynard tweeted about Reform’s message to King’s:
Alan Maynard (@ProfAlanMaynard)   25/08/2014 04:35 pm
NHS funding: “can we ignore pricing any longer” in KF weekly bulletin. Answer: YES! Taxation is fairer, easier to collect & opposed by cretins!!
King’s concern is about the issue of  demand for health services outstripping the country’s ability to pay. The suggestion is that the  NHS is facing a funding crisis so big that that the only solution is co-payments, top ups and insurance. This challenges the NHS principle of ‘free at the point of delivery’. I have argued in a previous post that care costs and so we have to consider who pays, but my view is that we should socialise the risk and spread the cost across society.
Roy Lilley asks: “Are top-up or insurance based systems with their overheads, actuarial hocus-pocus, running costs, surpluses, cost of collections, regulations, appeals systems and palaver cheaper and more efficient than a tax based system?”
He goes onto make the point that insurers “have to lay-off risk, reduce exposure and break even on their book. And, ten pounds to see a GP is £10 that has to be collected, administered, audited and in extremis, debt-collected. Taxes must be cheaper to administer and easier to collect”.
Kings,  in listening to Reform , are lending credence to the neoliberal dogma that wishes to shrink the state, individualise costs and encouraging private sector involvement.
The Tories used to say that the NHS is safe in their hands. The Kings bulletin will be music to their ears. Don’t expect Miliband’s Labour to challenge this.

The NHS in ruins: Small state private medical care is the future?

You would have to have been living on a desert island, celebrity obsessed or just plain ‘not interested’ to know there is an issue with NHS funding. The issue at stake is not that there is a funding gap between demand and provision, although that is certainly the case. The issue is the dismantling of the NHS as a publically funded service based on core principles. These principles are based on progressive, socialist/collectivist values rooted in social democracy. In short, the larger political project currently underway is the shrinking of the state by transferring its core functions of empowerment and protection of the public, to private, often global, corporations. The ‘moral mission’ of government is being eroded in favour of profit and individualising risk and responsibility.

 

Before we briefly examine this claim, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of the current basis for the NHS:

 

The NHS was a political project founded in 1948 on the following guiding principles to address inequalities in access to medical services. The 3 core principles were:

1. that it meets everyone’s needs.

2. free at the point of delivery.

3. based on clinical need, not the ability to pay.

Since then these 3 have been developed into 7 principles underpinning the NHS constitution.

1. The NHS provides a comprehensive service available to all.

2. Access to NHS services is based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay.

3. The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism.

4. The NHS aspires to put patients at the heart of everything it does.

5. The NHS works across organisational boundaries and in partnership with other organisations in the interest of patients, local communities and the wider population.

6. The NHS is committed to providing best value for taxpayers’ money and the most effective, fair and sustainable use of finite resources.

7. The NHS is accountable to the public, communities and patients that it serves.

NHS Core principles

 

These principles derive from a social democratic root, instigated initially by the post war labour government under the guidance of Aneurin Bevan , Minister for Health in the Attlee government of 1945 to 1951 at a time when the UK owed far more as a % of GDP than it does now. Despite this national debt, the Attlee government still found the money to set up the NHS. So from the outset, this was a political project based on collectivist principles and for this reason is now seen by free market conservatives, neoliberals and small state conservatives, as undesirable. However, as the NHS has huge public support, these critics of collectivism use the language of ‘affordability in austere times’ to frame the debate rather than outright argue for the wholesale privateering of the NHS and a move to individual responsibility for health based on health insurance. As part of this process, there appears an almost deliberate softening up of the public for this privateering and abdication of government responsibility for the protection of the public’s health and medical services. As a result of government policy we are being exposed to stories about NHS funding such as:

The Royal College of General Practitioners asks patients to petition the government on the issue of funding cuts”. This was reported by Neil Roberts in May 2014, who writes that a poster showing queues outside a GP surgery, and a claim that up to 100 practices face closure, is being sent to GP practices. Roberts states:

“The poster and petition, which the college is asking patients to sign, are part of the Put Patients First: Back General Practice campaign, run with the National Association for Patient Participation. The campaign calls for an increase in general practice’s share of NHS funding to 11% by 2017”.

Is this a case of special pleading? I don’t think so, the health service is facing a funding issue, including the £20 billion Nicholson challenge. In the context of rising demand, and an increasing gap in the budget to meet that demand, the NHS requires some radical changes or faces a ‘productivity challenge too far’ (Appleby, J. (2013) A productivity challenge too far? BMJ 344 e2416). One report from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, suggested that 1 in 5  NHS Trusts were in financial trouble and bankruptcy was a real option, this despite the NHS having an overall surplus of £2.1 billion in 2012-13. This surplus may not last, and the seemingly disorganised, costly management and inspection schemes alongside the disintegration of the providers into an ‘any willing provider’ mix of public and private do not bode well for the financial future of the service. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes have also locked some NHS organisations into costly long term contractual agreements.

So, yes the NHS is facing many challenging issues that some argue require a solution not yet fully implemented, although started, by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This solution is to reduce public provision and encourage private sector organizations to tender and compete for services, they would be known as ‘any willing provider’. In theory this means Tesco as well as small social enterprises.

To get to this position, the NHS has to be seen to be not working and the current pressure on reducing public spending assists this process. Lack of funding, allied to poor services, paves the way for further privateering. The argument is that the state cannot provide the funds and also should not provide the funds, but it is the former argument – ‘austerity’ that is being used as a shield for the latter.

David Cameron, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s (of London) Banquet on November 11th 2013, outlined the strategic objective: ‘austerity is here to stay’, he said:

“The biggest threat to the cost of living in this country is if our budget deficit and debts get out of control again…we have a plan…it means building a leaner, more efficient state. We have to do more with less”.

Debt reduction as an imperative, masks the ideological position for a smaller state.

Let us not forget, for this government will have you do so, that the debt rose as a result of the bank bail out rather than out of control state spending. The successful narrative is that the debt is all Labour’s fault and that big state spending cannot go on. The global financial crash of 2007-8 is a very useful smokescreen hiding conservative wishes to reduce the state’s functions.

Health and medical services in this worldview is not a public good, it is a commodity to be bought and sold in the market. If the NHS can be seen to be failing, to be expensive, then you have a narrative which states that the answer is selling off the services to private companies and introducing competition. So, why not privatise the NHS?

We already have a model for this; it is childcare, the costs for which is seen primarily as the responsibility of the individual and the family, with just a little state support. The private sector is paying so little for so many families with children, and private sector landlords have private rents so high, that the state is subsidizing low pay with benefits. The idea that the whole of society benefits from well educated, healthy children, and thus has an interest in supporting their development, is sidelined when it comes to paying for that care. Childcare costs are largely picked up by individuals and families. The state supports families with tax credits, child allowance and is introducing some measure of support for childcare for parents who are working. This support derives from a collectivist, not an individualist, political philosophy, and as yet has not been fully withdrawn. This is partly meeting the government’s moral mission to empower and protect its citizens. Conservatives argue however that benefits should be cut, and wonder why those who choose to have children are not fully paying for them, after all it was their choice!

We do not know how far Cameron wants to push competition and more private provision for medical services, we don’t yet know how much of the more expensive US health insurance system he wants to copy. We do know that corporate lobbying for state contracts from companies such as Serco, Capita and GE occur for the more profitable services. See this short film on NHS lobbying .

The Free University argues:

The UK government is proposing to privatise yet more public services including Ministry of Defence procurement and the Fire Services. Other institutions such as the Met Office are also being considered for sale. Privatisation of NHS services has been underway for some time and will accelerate under the secret US/EU Free Trade Agreement currently in negotiation. These are all a manifestation of “Liberalisation“.

Linda Kaucher in 2013 stated:

“Liberalisation means offering investment opportunities transnationally and since the 1980’s, successive UK governments have prioritised liberalisation in both private and public sectors. Private sector liberalisation has resulted in overseas ownership of most UK enterprise. Privatisations in the public sector have been simultaneously liberalised, so overseas investors are involved in the public sector sell-offs (e.g. water, rail), private contracting (e.g. waste collection, hospital cleaning) and PFI schemes. Right now, it is the NHS that is at stake, as it is divided up, privatised and liberalised – potentially forever: once overseas companies are involved, it is very difficult to reverse liberalisations, and, inherently, also the privatisations underpinning them. This is even more the case as liberalisations are committed to international trade agreements –  which is precisely the purpose of trade agreements.”.

The drift is towards more privateering of medical services. Will we get a better health service with improved outcomes? Lets not confuse health with medical services; health is largely socially and politically determined, so even if the NHS is fully publically owned, health outcomes are determined elsewhere (socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender….). The NHS is providing medical services to treat illness and disease and to manage chronic long term conditions. So, will private provision improve medical outcomes, will it improve services for dementia, mental health, elderly care?

Nurses for Reform.

A free market nurse think tank:

“NFR has long argued that the NHS is an essentially Stalinist, nationalised abhorrence and that Britain can do much better without its so called ‘principles’ ”. (2008).

 

Health care is part of the ‘moral mission’ of government (Lakoff 2008 ‘The Political Mind p141) to empower and protect citizens. Lakoff argues that other forms of protection, such as the Police and the Fire services, don’t require insurance and health security likewise should be a function of government. Conservatives do not believe this, they feel that you should have health care only if you are willing and able to pay for it. If you are not making enough money then you probably do not deserve it. For conservatives, health is a commodity that should come with a price in the market. The post war consensus between conservatives and socialists in the UK held back this belief. This is now breaking down and conservatives are emboldened and empowered not only to make this argument, but to enact it.

 

Lakoff poses a simple question…will the privateering of the NHS serve the overall moral mission of protection and empowerment, will protection and empowerment be best served or undermined?

 

Those who argue it will not undermine this moral mission are also set to make a very large profit out of it.

 

 

 

Government, managerialism, leadership and poor care in the NHS

Today the government responds to the Francis Reports into the care failings between 2005-2009 at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. What can we expect?

 

I suspect that there will be a good deal of initiatives and new regulatory effort but little in the way of actual practical relevance.

 

In March 2013 the government published its initial response Patients First and Foremost in which David Cameron apologised to the families involved through parliament acknowledging systemic failures. It is to these systemic failures we must look to find some answers, but I suspect that my definition of a systemic failure may not be the same as Cameron’s. First lets consider where we are so far.

 

Jeremy Hunt’s foreword in March focused on creating a culture of safety, compassion and learning that is based on cooperation and openness. He identified four key groups who are essential in providing this culture:

 

  • Patients, service users, families and friends.
  • Frontline staff.
  • Leadership teams – Trust boards.
  • External structures: commissioners, regulators, professional bodies, local scrutiny bodies and Government.

 

The government’s response was, through the CQC, to appoint a new chief Inspector of Hospitals. Secondly, making hospital performance more transparent through a system of ratings. Then, something called a ‘single failure regime’. There would also be a Chief Inspector of Social Care. In addition the government would ‘foster a climate of openness’. How it would do that when it has no control at all over NHS organisations seems moot.

 

That was 8 months ago and so we cannot expect too much to change in a group of organisations that make up the NHS brand, a brand that is now a complex system of public and private provision distinct in organisational form from each other and from social care provision. What remains of the complex system is the underpinning Health and Social Care Act 2012.

 

Many of the 12 points in this March response are hard to critique, for example who does not want ‘Respect and Dignity?’ However there is a little nugget, point 8:

 

“We will work together to minimise bureaucracy, enabling time to care and time to lead, freeing up the expertise of NHS staff and the values and professionalism that called them to serve”.

 

This goes to the heart of the process of care, but there are no short cuts to doing this. Minimising bureaucracy requires leadership to address certain managerialist cultures. Prior to Mid Staffs, Leadership was seen as a key aspect of NHS culture changes. However, Leadership operates in certain organisational cultures and that rests mainly with management and can be strangled by a managerialist culture putting organisations into a catch 22: we need leadership to change cultures but we need culture change to allow leadership. However, it is bureaucratic management chasing non care oriented targets in order to maintain or gain Foundation Trust status which have distorted the care process and hampered frontline staff’s ability to deliver. This operates in wider socio-political context of the devaluing of care in that we accept the need for care but will not provide financial and social structures to allow it to flourish. Instead we have individualised care, leaving it mainly to families and women who are often provide it for free or for low pay.

 

Of the four groups identified above by Hunt, it is the leadership teams, especially hospital management and their Boards, which carry the most responsibility for care in NHS Trusts. Patients can exercise their voices, frontline staff can advocate or try to exercise clinical leadership, external groups can respond to failures often only after the event and were largely ineffectual as they may continue to be. Roy Lilley suggested that weighing a pig does not make it fatter – you have to build in quality from the outset, inspection is a post hoc activity. Trust Boards however set the tone and provide the resources and thus have the primary responsibility for the provision of good quality hospital care.  The Secretary of State for health has now abdicated that responsibility in an increasingly market driven health care system.

 

John Robinson, age 20, died in 2006 as a result of a ruptured spleen after a mountain bike accident. He was discharged from Mid Staffs Accident and Emergency department and died less than 24 hour later. A second inquest is being conducted. Caution must therefore be exercised in making any conclusions about the quality of care John received and whether it was in fact deficient. Claims regarding negligent care require certain conditions to be met and this has not been established in this case.

 

John’s parents claim that he was examined by a junior doctor, and that a consultant was not available. They suggested that if a more senior doctor had examined John then the chance of a ruptured spleen might have been considered. The junior doctor may have been incompetent, or she/he may have been acting within the limits of his competence, we do not know. The point however is that staffing of accident and emergency, and the training and development of staff who could spot this condition, are ultimately the responsibility of the Trust Board. Professional staff have a duty to make known their concerns regarding staffing and the competence of the team they work with, but they need the confidence to act on their concerns and the recognition by management that the exercise of clinical leadership involves challenging structures of support for clinical practice.

 

Therefore, professional staff have to be able to exercise clinical leadership safe in the knowledge that issues will be listened to and acted upon. However, managerial leadership may militate against this because their aims and objectives may blind them to real clinical needs. This was a criticism of Mid Staffs management.  In John’s case, if it was the poor decision making of an inexperienced junior doctor that was a major contributor to his death, we do not know if clinical leadership was exercised to address any issues of the training and support for junior doctors.

 

John Edmonstone (2008) suggested that clinical leadership is distinct from managerial leadership and is often ignored or not addressed by those considering leadership in the NHS. In addition he describes a disconnected hierarchy operating in health care organisations: a clinical hierarchy and a managerial hierarchy. This disconnect results in differing objectives, visions and ways of working. This is reflected by Robert Francis (2013 p3) who argued that the failings at Mid Staffs was primarily caused by:

 

“a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board. It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention. Above all, it failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from managerial and leadership responsibilities. This failure was in part the consequence of allowing a focus on reaching national access targets, achieving financial balance and seeking foundation trust status to be at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care”.

 

Prior to this Hewison and Griffith, in 2004 argued, “too much emphasis on leadership without an equal concern for transforming the organisations (nurses) work in may result in leadership being added to the list of transient management fads”. Hewison in 2011 went on to argue that the focus on leadership as a solution to organisational ills remains in the NHS. This is rooted in assumptions that leadership, changing cultures and producing effective leaders will result in improvements in management and organisations. Hutchinson and Jackson suggested in 2012 that discussions around leadership often fail to address the issues of power, politics, dominance and resistance in organisational cultures. Both pre date Francis comments about the nature of Trust management at Mid Staffs.

 

Faugier and Woolnough (2003) provided some evidence of what organisations feel like to work in. and thus illustrate how management cultures can distort care practices. They describes three types of organisation:

 

  1. The Machine
  2. The Choir
  3. The Living organisation.

 

In their research 45% of respondents stated that their organisation felt like a machine in which leadership is generally driven by senior management to establish order and control. Strategic decisions are made through a formal planning process and change is planned and programmatic. Employees feel like a ‘cog in a wheel’. Faugier and Woolnough concluded that there was serious work to do to ensure clinical staff feel engaged and empowered. They argued that too many staff felt like cogs with high levels of disengagement and disillusionment and that that the implications for patient care were obvious. This was written in 2003, before Mid Staffs made the headlines. One can’t help but think that the antecedents for poor quality care were already established and were being written about for some time.

 

Questions remain: Will the government be able to do anything about how individual Trusts are run and financed? Will the frontline be properly staffed and supported; will they feel free to express concern about poor quality care?

 

Is clinical leadership any better supported, and will staff feel empowered and engaged? Will today’s government response address any of the fundamental issues?

 

 

Issues to address to address in this regard:

 

  • In a public sector organisation, clinical leaders cannot easily affect, or redefine public policy or legislation set by politicians and so they operate within the conditions set by others. Since the Health and Social Care Act Government has released the reins of control and conditions to NHS organisations and can no longer provide or dictate such issues as minimum staffing levels without enacting new legislation.

 

  • Nursing culture may inhibit clinical leadership development; issues of gender and medical power may continue to inhibit strong nursing leadership within Trusts and in clinical commissioning groups.  Has nursing got the respect of the public, politicians, policy makers and other professional groups to allow the to exercise strong leadership?

 

  • The focus on developing the person, their competencies and their traits, which are often based on male assumptions about what leadership looks like, may be in conflict with the exercise of leadership that focuses on relationships (shared leadership) within complex organisations.

 

  • The ratio of professional nursing staff to non-professional staff requiring training, supervision and regulation by clinical leaders is wrong. Not enough nurses, too many support staff.

 

  • Health care organisations may be risk averse and heavily regulated which counters leadership development that encourages risk and creativity and the challenging of the status quo.

 

  • Inspection and regulation are post hoc activities: are the CQC, Monitor and the Professional Bodies fit for purpose in terms of preventing poor quality care?

Care Quality in the NHS. We can do better than this.

Care Quality in the NHS. We can do better than this.

 

Just published: a research study into culture and behaviour in the NHS. Dixon-Woods et al (2013) undertook a mixed method study from multiple sources using surveys, ethnographic data, board minutes, publicly available data sets and interviews. The reasons for doing this of course are well known post Francis and Keogh. So what did they find?

 

“an almost universal desire to provide the best quality of care…bright spots of excellence…but considerable inconsistency”.

 

The reasons put forward will resonate to many interested in quality and management issues in the NHS. Nonetheless it is useful to have some empirical data to support what we think we already know. Working against the desire to provide high quality care are the usual suspects:

 

1. Unclear goals

2. Overlapping priorities that distracted attention.

3. Too many external regulators

4. Poor information systems

5. Variable management and staff support

 

They concluded “…put the patient at the centre…get smart intelligence, focus on improving organisational systems, nurture care cultures by ensuring staff feel valued, respected, engaged and supported”. This last sounds like Roy Lilley’s oft quoted ‘fund the front line, make it fun to work there…’

 

Where does one start with this little list? First…get those pockets of excellence out in the light, let everyone see exactly how some are getting it right. Network, share, talk!

 

There are many intelligent people in the NHS, some of the staff are the cream of the educational system and others, what they lack in super cognitive functions, they more than make up for in commitment and care. What is lacking is the organisational foundations to harness this.

 

Nurses tell me that they have little or no time for professional development, clinical supervision or networking because they fill their time with giving care. They are already ‘putting the patient first’ but they lack ‘smart intelligence’, i.e. data that tells them that care is good or poor. Instead they are bombarded by other data that provides managerial information but little in the way of the patient’s actual experience. My blind uncle’s cup of tea being placed on the other side of his bed out of reach and with no verbal communication to tell him it was there, is a bit of data that does not get fed back to anyone. The RN’s need to be able to know if poorly trained staff require performance management. They need an ‘organisational system’ that allows the supervision and training of support staff that they oversee so that cold cups of tea are not left bedside.

 

 

Managers need to give more than lip service to making staff feel valued, respected, engaged and supported. And that is the crux, because Trusts chasing other organisational goals are liable to take their eye of this particular ball, measure success in terms that do not relate to the care experience and are liable oversee a culture in which staff become disengaged, disillusioned, distracted and demoralised.

 

The issue is of course wider than Trust and NHS management. It is about the value society is willing to place upon care, and thus how society structures itself to provide that care. Are we then asking too much of Trust managers?

 

It is of course the case that the vast majority of care is done outside the NHS most often by family, most often by women. This of course applies to both health and social care. This is the socio-political context in which the NHS has to work, picking up the pieces when care cannot be given by this informal unpaid army. The NHS can intervene magnificently when that care need is medical or surgical, but it just was not designed for the sheer number of frail elderly people requiring some form of care. Neither is society now structured to cope.

 

Social and geographical mobility that fragment communities and families; different societal and individual expectations; the changing demographic of an ageing population; longevity and medical advances that keep us alive but also result in many more experiencing chronic illness that requires supervision and care; the unglamorous nature of care; the still gendered nature of care; the structure of financial penalties for leaving the job market or career ladder to look after ‘mum’; the structure of rewards that channels money into socially useless bullshit jobs; the structure of rewards that sees prizes, fame, medals, celebrity heaped upon narrowly talented non entities too often still just out of nappies; the ability of the feral elite to ferret the lion’s share of the nations’ wealth into offshore tax havens; a government that sees public service and the public sector as dirty words; a government that is leaving it to the market to sort out, an education system working for the minority while the majority compete against each other in a rigged system; a job market increasingly characterised by an increase in low skilled, part time, low waged employment; a private sector that will not rightly touch getting involved in care, a risk averse managerialist, bureaucratic and financial accounting approach to care…

 

In short, care costs, but the costs are externalised onto those who too often are unable to pay. We have increasingly individualised the risks and costs arguing that health and social care cannot be afforded by the state, especially now in times of ‘austerity’. The State is not the same thing as society but society needs some organising structure to put its values into action. We have left the values of individualism and market freedom blind us to the changing nature of society and the care pressures that come with it. We are now ill equipped in many areas to provide the context for high quality care.

 

A question then can be raised about whether the bright spots of excellence exist despite the overall socio-political context? Could the NHS better foster those bright spots if its supporting context was different?

 

NHS is not just about Trust management, it is also about society having a different vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to save the NHS?

How to save the NHS?

 

 

In the context of rising demand, and an increasing gap in the budget to meet that demand starting with the £20 billion Nicholson Challenge, the NHS requires some radical changes. One report from the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, suggested that 1 in 5  NHS Trusts were in financial trouble and bankruptcy was a real option, this despite the NHS having an overall surplus of £2.1 billion in 2012-13. This current surplus may not last, and the seemingly disorganised, costly management and inspection schemes alongside the disintegration of the providers into an ‘any willing provider’ mix of public and private do not bode well for the financial future of the service. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes have also locked some NHS organisations into costly long term contractual agreements.

 

So, what is the answer? Roy Lilley puts foward some radical solutions but it amounts to his oft quoted phrase “fund the front line, protect it fiercely, make it fun to work there”  and the problems go away.

 

Roy’s answer for Trust Boards:

 

  1. Cull the boards – too many people staffing Trust boards are locked into organisational thinking and theory that has got the NHS where it is. That is to say that although shared or distributed leadership is often discussed in the NHS Leadership Framework, it is often not practiced. Leadership should not be restricted to those who hold designated management roles – success comes from leadership based on shared responsibility recognising that anyone in an organisation can contribute. In Roy’s words, “staff always know best”.
  2. Get staff re positioned as co-owners and partners and have then on key committees and boards.
  3. Get as many women into management as possible.
  4. Change the organisational culture so that pointing out error is fine.

I would add:

  1. Focus on patient safety.
  2. Ensure minumum staffing levels.
  3. Ensure teams work in such a way that every voice matters.

For the NHS as a whole Roy suggests:

  1. Get rid of Monitor totally, it is expensive and has failed.
  2. Get rid of the CQC, it is expensive and it has failed.
  3. Stop financing any NHS initiative that is not front line, that includes things such as the NHS Leadership Academy, even if they are doing a good job.
  4. Scrap the market: health does not pay and the private sector knows it. This means repeal of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
  5. Consolidate PFI debt, spread it across the NHS.
  6. Insist on a year on year 5% cut in all supplies and pharmaceuticals.
  7. A blanket pay freeze for 12 months.
  8. Scrap the CCGs.
  9. Give capitated population based budgets to Foundation Trustss and vertically integrate primary, community and social care. Let FT’s configure boards of their own choosing.
  10. Invest in doubling the bandwidth and make everything you can web based.

 

Some of these are radical changes, some Trusts are making progress through focusing on staffing levels, listening to front line staff and relentlessly focusing on patient safety. Salford NHS trust engaged staff very early on in their ‘Safely Reducing Costs’ programme. As a result staff came up with the ‘Smart health = Smart savings’ scheme. This involved on a monthly basis ideas being considered, with the best selected for development. Salford also has a ‘Quality Improvement Strategy’ aimed at patient safety. Staff initiated tests of change and senior leaders engaged in weekly ‘safety walkarounds’ . Salford also addressed staffing levels with the BBC reporting the ‘one nurse to 8 patients’ ratio, a level that under no circumstances should staffing levels fall (Safe and Sound – the safe staffing alliance).

 

The question for others in the NHS, seems to be around a lack of leadership at the right levels and ossified organisational cultures and thinking based on ideological commitments to competitive markets in health care provision. Leadership and management too divorced from the real issues front line staff face and a political leadership hide bound to political dogma and the private sector lobby who will benefit from cherry picking health contracts.

 

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