This week has seen at least two attempts to destabilise the health reforms. Channel 4 came up with a very sloppy piece of journalism, wrongly claiming that the whole of Parliament had failed to spot an error in the Health Bill that would allow GPs to profit from conflicts of interest. The Today programme followed up yesterday by seeking to show that regional and national “reconfigurations” of services would not be possible if GP consortia do the buying, whilst missing the obvious point that the reconfigurations they seemed to want were not happening under the current regionally managed system.
They clearly do not enjoy interviewing Andrew Lansley, as he knows his NHS inside out and makes them look silly by setting out the facts and the context. The interviewer is left spluttering that he wants shorter answers, in the hope that there will then be a loose phrase they can blow up out of all proportions.
The new spectre at the feast is that someone may profit from the NHS. What kind of world do these people live in? Have they not seen the profits over many years earned by the leading pharmaceutical companies out of supplying the NHS? Or the profits of the management consultants, advertising agencies, recruitment consultants and other business advisers who had plenty of contracts under Labour? Or the profits of the cleaning, catering and supplying companies that keep the hotel services going in hospitals? Some NHS money has always gone into profits.
Have they not also grasped that under Labour incentive pay and higher pay for directly employed managers and other senior personnel was a big part of the deal. Many senior staff now earn more for performing in certain ways. I agree with incentive pay, but it is a way of profiting from the employment.
The new canard Channel 4 introduced was a GP might both have power to decide where someone went for care, and have shares in a private sector nursing home or private health care company which he used for some patients. Ministers made it clear the Bill said GPs should not exploit conflicts of interest, and they are putting in Monitor, a Regulator with the duty of stopping that and other bad conduct. So why did the story run when it was clearly denied by reference to the Bill?
Did these same journalists spend time in the last thirteen years trying to see if any GPs did behave like that? It would be possible for a GP under the existing system to behave badly, against the spirit of the NHS, and have shares in private companies that profit from NHS purchasing. Maybe the absence of such stories shows that GPs behave better than Channel 4 journalists expect.
When it comes to planning national and regional services, the criticism was again ill judged. As Mr Lansley pointed out, GP consortia can persuade the providers of health care to change what they offer through their large buying power. The irony was that the chosen case in South London was an example of where the current system of planning had failed.