Good timing for the publication of the Health Select Committee’s latest report on commissioning.
Following the government’s new-found interest in “listening” to what others have to say about health service reform, let’s hope they have set aside some time to read this report which draws together the written and verbal evidence put forward by a wide range of key players, not least the Moore Adamson Craig Partnership. As the Committee Chair, Stephen Dorrell says, the proposals it puts forward are a lot more than just a “minor tweak” to the Bill.
In our evidence both in person and in writing, we stressed the importance of ensuring that the new commissioning structures allow for proper accountability to patients and the public and although the Committee makes some very welcome steps towards tightening up the governance arrangements we are disappointed that the voice of the public and patient voice is not given more importance within their proposed new governance arrangement
What’s in a name?
The headline of the report, and a sensible one in our view, is the suggestion that we drop the concept of “GP commissioning” in favour of a more broadly-based decision-making model of “NHS Commissioning Authorities” . (And if you think this sounds a bit like Primary Care Trusts you can wash your mouth out with an alcohol based handwash immediately.)
Our proposals are designed to ensure that NHS Commissioning involves all stakeholders – GPs, certainly, but also nurses, hospital doctors, and representatives of social care and local communities. We believe this broadening of the base for commissioning is vital if we are to achieve the changes that are necessary to allow the NHS deliver properly coordinated healthcare”.
Wider clinical representation, but where are the people?
MAC has talked a lot about the need for robust governance arrangements that recognise patients and the public as the moral owners of the service. So it is disappointing to see that the Committee’s proposed structure for commissioning authorities explicitly excludes both patient and public membership of their boards.
GPs would be in the majority, making up at least half the membership of the board, balanced by a professional Social Care representative; an elected member (a councillor or directly-elected Mayor), nominated by the local authority; a nursing representative; a representative of hospital medicine and a public health expert nominated by the Director of Public Health. The reason given for the exclusion of patient and public memberships feels more than a little bit lame:
“The Committee has concluded that an attempt to introduce a broadly based patient voice into the governance structure of local commissioning bodies, while maintaining the representative balance described in the report would make the Board unmanageably large”.
While it is undoubtedly true that large boards will become cumbersome the solution cannot be simply to exclude the public and lay voice altogether. When we said we did not think it was right to have just one lay person at the table, we did not mean that it would be better to have none. How about having fewer GPs? If, as the report suggests, these commissioning authorities should take on not only primary care, but secondary care, community care, dentistry, pharmacy and suchlike it becomes rather less easy to see why the bias of boards should be so strongly in favour of GPs.
Don’t leave it all to HealthWatch
The Committee suggests that the best way to provide a patient voice in decision-making would be through creating a strengthened role for HealthWatch, requiring the local commissioning body to consult regularly with HealthWatch who in turn would be required to carry out its own consultations.
This is all well and good but it will not address the vital need for proper patient and public engagement at ALL levels in the commissioning process, with patient derived health intelligence being aggregated up from the individual practice, through local commissioning and to the national level. The need to establish an effective means of doing this was central to our evidence and is not mentioned anywhere in the report. Under the Committee’s proposals we would have real concerns that GPs and the commissioning authority boards will feel they have been let off the hook as far as meaningful public and patient involvement in commissioning is concerned. As we said in our written response:
Local HealthWatch is important but it is essential that it is not by default seen as a synonym for effective patient and public involvement. There must be much more than simply a viable Local Health Watch. More work needs to be done as to how the new HealthWatch bodies will be integrated into GP commissioning structures. At a local level, we would like to see a stronger and more diverse membership of HealthWatch properly engaged in commissioning decisions as of right. However we think that this needs to be complemented by GP practices and consortia having direct “listening” relationships with their own patient
The Committee concludes that its proposals would mean that there would be no need for establishment of Health and Wellbeing Boards which may make sense if the commissioning authority boards can come up with the goods (and it’s a big if). But without a public or patient voice on the commissioning body or a locally accountable Health and Wellbeing Board it remains questionable as to whether the structures proposed here could really been seen to be properly accountable to patients and the public.
Watch this space
With the Bill “on hold” and the Select Committee Report definitely offering a very different picture of how things might unfold it is hard to see where we go from here. There is much to be commended in the Select Committee’s recommendations, perhaps most importantly the emphasis on the need to be properly “proscriptive” about what governance should look like but MAC will continue to push for a form of governance which properly recognises the role of patients, the public and lay people in making health services fully accountable.
The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive health, care and education organisations. We are ready to work with and support all those who want to make sense and a success of the new structures of patient and public engagement within the new arrangements for health and social care commissioning and providing. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.