Kings Fund calls for NHS autonomy

24 Jan 02
Politicians should hand over the day-to-day running of the NHS to an arm's length corporation, according to a report from the health think-tank, the King's Fund.

25 January 2002

The future of the NHS calls for radical changes in NHS management, with all trusts becoming independent, not-for-profit organisations. Under plans unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Milburn last week, only three-star trusts would be given this status.

The report is based on the work of a group of academics, doctors, managers and patient representatives led by Lord Haskins, the chair of the Better Regulation Taskforce. It said the government should provide funding and control health policy, allowing the new corporation to allocate funds, regulate care and set standards.

The new trusts would have complete control over the use of their assets but would work to national standards. Patients would be given a role in service planning and greater choice in where, how and when they were treated.

Haskins said the changes would make the NHS more responsive to patients' needs. 'The NHS is not in crisis,' he said. 'It is not on the verge of collapse. But it does suffer from excessive political control, too much centralisation of power, and a lack of responsiveness to patients. Given sufficient funding and staffing, it can provide the world-class service the public demands.'

King's Fund chief executive Rabbi Julia Neuberger said all trusts should be given greater autonomy. 'The whole of the NHS should be freed from political control of its day-to-day workings. Local NHS organisations should be able to manage their assets without interference from the centre and without the constant threat of reorganisation,' she added.

In a speech this week, health minister John Hutton said the NHS would develop into a 'flexible, locally managed and delivered service'. But Whitehall would not let go completely.

'The Department of Health will set the standards and priorities for the NHS, provide the necessary resources, and ensure the effective inspection of local services against established criteria of performance and quality,' he stressed.


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