NHS Needs Greater Independence from Government to be Successful

Posted on Wednesday 18th April 2007

The NHS should be given much greater freedom from Government intervention if it is to achieve stability and success, according to a new report from the University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre.

The report “Things can only get better? – the argument for NHS Independence”, which is published today, argues that micro-management by politicians actually hinders the development of NHS services.

Professor Chris Ham, the former head of the Department of Health Strategy Unit and one of the report’s authors, comments: “A successful NHS is seen as an acid test of any government’s record. This means that at times there is a temptation for politicians to tinker with structures and introduce initiatives to show their commitment to the service. But there has to be a serious doubt about whether this constant changing of structures is effective.

In recent months politicians like David Cameron and Gordon Brown have raised the idea of creating a more independent NHS, but until now governments have found it hard to trust managers and clinicians and to let go.”  

The authors propose a new model for an independent NHS, with a significantly different and reduced role for government. Under the new proposals, the government would have responsibility for setting the overall priorities of the NHS, determining the overall budget and holding the NHS to account. However, the NHS itself would decide how best to go about meeting overall targets, how best to allocate money and how best to organise front-line services.

An NHS board, with representation from NHS leaders, clinicians, patients and members of the general public, would oversee this newly independent NHS.

Dr Jon Glasby, the report’s lead author, believes that politicians could learn from several existing organisations if they want to create an independent NHS: “There are already several publicly funded organisations that operate independently from government, including the BBC and the Bank of England.

In this model the NHS would negotiate a Charter every three years in the build up to each Comprehensive Spending Review. This would set out high-level targets for the NHS to deliver, but leave the NHS with the freedom to decide how best to go about meeting such targets.”

Professor Edward Peck, who is also one of the paper’s authors, adds: “The changes we propose would allow politicians to continue to direct the strategic course of the NHS, whilst allowing NHS leaders the flexibility and discretion to manage the day to day operation of healthcare.

It is extremely important in a democratic system that politicians have a direct say in the nation’s health, but the current system encourages politicians to intervene in the NHS in a way that often isn’t helpful.”

ENDS

To request a copy of the report or to arrange interviews contact: Ben Hill, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, Tel 0121 4145134, Mob 07789 921 163

Notes to Editors

The report: “Things can only get better? – the argument for NHS Independence” is written by Jon Glasby, Edward Peck, Chris Ham and Helen Dickinson.

A full copy is available on the Health Services Management Centre website.

http://www.hsmc.bham.ac.uk

A podcast featuring interviews with Professor Chris Ham and Dr Jon Glasby, will be available to download from the University of Birmingham’s website from Tuesday 17th April.