Image: Leo Reynolds/Flickr.
The schemes of NHS England boss Simon (don’t stop me now) Stevens and Health Secretary Jeremy (I can’t believe I’m still getting away with it) Hunt were well and truly exposed at the Health and Care Innovations Expo in Manchesterlast month.
Stevens started his keynote speech by boasting about his new beard. But his macho stance faltered when in the question and answer session I asked how Tameside, an area with one of the worst health outcomes in the country and with high levels of social deprivation, could possibly provide the improved health and social care services promised in his ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ (STPs). I highlighted social services budgets being cuts by 50% and further STP-driven cuts to NHS services and hospital beds.
You don’t know much about STPs? That’s not surprising. Stevens and Hunt are trying to make us believe they are “engaging” with the public. But during Expo sessions it became clear they don’t want the general public to know anything – or as little as possible – until the plans are officially approved this Autumn (with new contracts to be signed as soon as possible after that).
The ‘public’ they do allow to glimpse the plans so far are often contracted by the system, eg Healthwatch and voluntary organisations, dependent for their existence on Department of Health funding. All such ‘consultations’ have been like this: open ‘engagement’ doesn’t exist. In fact, it’s being actively discouraged, as Shropshire found out when it got firmly slapped on the knuckles for making its plan publicly available.
So, those STPs. Stevens has divided England into 44 regions or “footprints”, each with – as Expo revealed – new legal arrangements. Many fear Stevens’ decade working in the US for a private health insurance company has influenced his, and thus the NHS’s, renewed enthusiasm for local NHS’s to become ‘Accountable Care Organisations’ (ACOs). ACOs are an American idea exemplified by not so admirable firms like Kaiser Permanente (whose practices were devastatingly exposed in Michael Moore’s film ‘Sicko’).
Such organisations are ripe for privatisation, as Professor Allyson Pollock explains here.
We won’t fall for that, will we? We won’t let our beloved NHS be carved up into greedy insurance schemes, with the 44 regions becoming effectively separate companies, running different services, with different pay rates and conditions of service – will we?