I am hearing a most bizarre rumour – even by the standards of bizarreness fostered by the Health and Social Care Bill.
Apparently, Ministers have instructed civil servants to draft an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill (which begins its Report Stage in the House of Lords on 8th February) to change the status of the proposed new local HealthWatch organisations. These are the local structures that are being set up to protect the interests of patients in the brave new world of the “reformed” health service after the Bill is passed. (I have already warned that the proposals for HealthWatch are flawed.)
I am told that under this amendment, local HealthWatch organisations will no longer be “statutory bodies” but will instead become “bodies carrying out statutory functions”. This sounds – as, of course, it is meant to – like a trivial semantic point and the amendment will no doubt be presented as a technical change of no significance.
The reality is very different.
In fact, the change of status is important. It implies a downgrading of local HealthWatch organisations and they will need all the clout they can muster if they are to be effective. Some of that clout would come from being a statutory body in their own right.
But the real reason behind this change is that the local councils who are to set up the local HealthWatch organisations will now be required to put out to commercial tender the work of HealthWatch. (You cannot tender for a statutory body, but you can tender for a body to carry out statutory functions.) And as each individual HealthWatch organisation will have a budget above the level at which EU competition rules kick in, the tender will have to be advertised across the European Union in the Official Journal, so that firms and organisations from anywhere in Europe can compete to provide local consumer representation services.
I hate to think what these multiple tendering operations will cost and I fail to see how it is likely to lead to better quality local patient representation.
If this were some new health and safety requirement or some equal opportunities expectation, no doubt the newspapers would be wheeling out the “This is political correctness gone mad” headlines.
In fact, this is another example of the Health Secretary’s privatisation-mania, so all together now:
“THIS IS PRIVATISATION GONE MAD.“