Here is my speech from tonight’s debate on NHS bureaucracy:
“My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I was particularly taken with his support for the principle of ring-fenced funding, which I trust the Minister will take into account when, a little later, we come to consider local healthwatch organisations.
Earlier today, we had a Question on the initiatives that had been taken in London on stroke care. I did not get an opportunity to pose this question but I was interested in who, in the absence of NHS London driving the process, would have taken the quite difficult decision to reorganise stroke care in London, given that it was opposed by a lot of the local providers and local organisations. This question also came up during the first day on Report when we looked at who would make decisions on reconfiguring services and who would make decisions when services were not adequate or when there were issues of equality of healthcare to be addressed. At one point, the Minister said,
“The CCGs will be supported in their efforts to improve quality by the NHS Commissioning Board”.—[Official Report, 8/2/12; col. 314.]
Later on, when I probed him on this, he said that “the board”—that is, the NHS Commissioning Board—“will be represented sectorally”. I was not quite sure what he meant, but it being Report stage I could not challenge him. He said:
“There will be field forces in all parts of the country … The majority of its staff will be a field force”.—[Official Report, 8/2/12; col. 316.]
I do not know how a majority can be a field force, but there we are. Later on, he said:
“However, of course, the board will be represented at a local level rather than only centrally, and we expect that the board will be represented in health and well-being boards and in the discussions that take place there”.
When I questioned whether that meant that they would be members, he said:
“It is entirely open to a health and well-being board to invite a member of the Commissioning Board to be a permanent member, but I am not saying that we are prescribing that”.—[Official Report, 8/2/12; col. 340.]
I took that to mean that the NHS Commissioning Board will be sitting at the centre of the National Health Service with its tentacles going out to all parts of the health service. The Minister did not really like that. He said:
“The role of the board is to support local commissioners; it is to be there as a resource to promote guidance, supported by the quality standards that we were debating earlier”.—[Official Report, 8/2/12; col. 352.]
If the noble Earl does not like the metaphor of tentacles reaching out across the health service, perhaps a better metaphor would be to see the NHS Commissioning Board as some sort of Spanish Inquisition, reaching out to the local clinical commissioning groups and to the health and well-being boards, saying, “We are here to help”, which is no doubt what the Spanish Inquisition said in its heyday, and, “We are a resource to promote guidance”, which is also what I suspect that the Spanish Inquisition might have said in its heyday. I have to ask whether what we have before us is really a less bureaucratic structure when it has this enormous inquisition-like structure sitting in the middle of it, promoting things at a local level.
We are replacing a fairly simple, basic idea: the Department of Health in the middle with a series of strategic health authorities and below those the PCTs. I believe that the previous Government should have done more to reduce the number of PCTs and I know that my noble friend Lord Warner worked very hard, in his various incarnations, to try to achieve just that. There are too many PCTs, but we did not need this Bill to reduce the number of PCTs. Nor did we need this Bill to give those PCTs clinical leadership. All that was required was to appoint local doctors, local clinicians, to lead those PCTs, and that could have been done from the Department of Health. You did not need this Bill to reduce bureaucracy and to simplify that fairly straightforward structure; you did not need this Bill to give clinical leadership; and you certainly did not need the top-down reorganisation, which I think we were promised we would not have.
Instead we shall have the Department of Health at the centre and the Secretary of State, who will not micromanage but who will have instead the NHS Commissioning Board. No doubt the Secretary of State, like some latter day Henry II will say, “Who will rid me of this rebellious CCG?”, or, “Who will require something to happen in a local provider?” and popping up like some—I am mixing my metaphors—Torquemada will be the chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, Sir David Nicholson, who will say, “Ah, right, this is something that we will take on; it is not something that you, Secretary of State, should be micromanaging yourself; we, the NHS Commissioning Board will micromanage it through our network of clustered strategic health authorities, through our commissioning support groups and through the 300 CCGs, not forgetting these wonderful bodies, the clinical senates”. No doubt this is my failure rather than anyone else’s, but I have yet to understand exactly how the clinical senates will operate. I rather suspect that they will be like the Deputy Prime Minister’s proposals for a replacement for your Lordships’ House: they will be costly, rather powerless and part of this panoply of structures.
Throughout all this, there will be the field forces of the NHS Commissioning Board, not reaching out like tentacles, but being there as a resource to promote guidance and to make things happen. Apparently from this Bill, which allegedly will reduce bureaucracy—this morning I heard a government apologist on the radio saying that the Bill is all about reducing bureaucracy—we will have this network of individuals who will work with, or even sit on, local health and well-being boards, working to encourage and promote guidance and advice and working with clinical commissioning groups. They will be individuals who will, largely, be anonymous, invisible and unaccountable, except upwards to the NHS Commissioning Board. I am not sure that I accept that this will be a less bureaucratic structure but I am quite sure that it will be a much less clear and accountable structure than anything we have had before.
Recently, I was in a meeting with a number of London MPs who were talking about how these new arrangements will work. The question they wanted answered—this is the Henry Kissinger question—was who do we phone to talk to when some issues takes place which is not soluble by an individual clinical commissioning group or is not simply an issue that relates to one provider? Where do we go? Presumably, we ought to go to this anonymous individual, anonymous representative of the NHS Commissioning Board. No one will know who that person is. That person will not be accountable and presumably will not be supposed to talk to Members of Parliament.
The question that I hope the noble Earl will answer about where the Bill is going—I accept the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that it may not be perfectly drafted—is: how baroque will the structure be underneath the NHS Commissioning Board? How will that structure of individuals and field forces, which will manipulate what happens in local CCGs and in local health and well-being boards, work? How will a field force be held accountable, visibly and locally to the population who will be affected by the decisions of those influenced by that local field force?”