Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has written to the Secretary of State for Health following reports in today’s Observer of comments made by NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson. Nicholson warned a meeting of leading GPs earlier this month that Government plans could end in ‘misery and failure’. The NHS leader also cautioned against ‘carpet-bombing’ the NHS with forced competition as the Department of Health announced a major expansion of forced tendering for NHS community services.
Labour’s NHS Check last week unveiled the list of services being tendered in every community under the first wave of Any Qualified Provider and called on the Government to halt this policy pending a review of its impact on patient care – a call we reiterate in light of the NHS Chief Executive’s comments.
Andy Burnham MP said:
"The crisis of confidence in the Government's re-organisation gets deeper by the day.
"People will be worried to hear the man charged with implementing the Government's NHS re-organisation openly questioning it and predicting it could end in 'misery and failure'.
“We knew there were widespread professional concerns about Government plans to turn the NHS into a free market but it is now clear they go to the very top.”
"At this critical moment, the NHS can't afford to have its Chief Executive and the Health Secretary in open disagreement. Jeremy Hunt should take a One Nation approach and listen to a man of David Nicholson's experience in the NHS. He should call a halt to the expansion of the Any Qualified Provider process and the top-down privatisation of NHS services."
Full text of letter:
I was astonished to read in today's Observer that the man charged with implementing your Government's re-organisation of the NHS has serious doubts about it and fears it could end in "misery and failure".
Right now, the NHS is in a dangerous position, facing unprecedented financial and organisational upheaval. As I am sure you will appreciate, the timing of these comments from the Chief Executive of the NHS, David Nicholson have the potential to increase the growing crisis of confidence in your Government's reforms.
We already knew that there was widespread professional concern about your re-organisation but it is now clear it goes right to the top of the Department. To reduce any potential for confusion, I would be grateful if you could set out whether David Nicholson has raised his concerns directly with you and, as a result, whether you will make any changes to the plans you inherited from your predecessor?
One of the most serious concerns David Nicholson raises is the warning against "carpet bombing" the NHS with competition - a clear reference to the enforced open tendering of NHS services under the Any Qualified Provider process.
In Labour's recent NHS Check report, we revealed the accelerating pace and scale of competition in the NHS. 396 separate community services have been forced out to competition under the first wave of AQP. Despite promising to put clinicians in the driving seat, your Government has ordered PCTs to put successful services out to tender - in many cases, against their stated plans.
Worryingly, before any evaluation of the first round of AQP, you are now planning a major expansion of the policy with a further 39 services opened out to competition before next April.
I have major concerns about this rapid expansion and its potential to de-stabilise successful NHS services - and it now appears my concerns are shared by the Chief Executive of the NHS.
In light of these comments, and to bring some stability to the NHS, I believe there is now a clear case for the suspension of the next wave of the Any Qualified Provider process, pending a full review of wave one and the effect it has had on existing services and quality of patient care.
I ask you to give this sensible proposal serious consideration. David Nicholson's comments are a stark reminder of the gamble your Government is taking with the NHS and should provide pause for thought.
RT HON ANDY BURNHAM MP