Milburn told to stick to NHS ten-year plan

21 Feb 02
Health Secretary Alan Milburn was this week told to stop tampering with the structure of the NHS and ignoring his own department's ten-year strategy to give staff more time to deliver his much sought-after 'world-class service'.

22 February 2002

Echoing recent criticisms of the government's tendency to impose new forms of central control over locally delivered services, NHS managers and unions accused Milburn of compromising improved performance in favour of structural changes for political purposes.

Speaking at a health symposium in London on February 19, Dave Prentis, the leader of public service union Unison, said that 'more patience and less spin' was required before the NHS could deliver the improvements the public demands.

The government, he said, was 'too busy chasing positive headlines through one-hit-wonder solutions' that were not part of the ten-year plan for the NHS, and had lost sight of core problems, such as bed shortages, that local providers had to tackle.

He added that many initiatives – such as the expanded use of private contractors – had 'no substance in them'.

'What percentage of operations do you think the much-heralded use of the voluntary sector can tackle, for example? One or two per cent? These are sideline issues,' he warned.

Margaret Clayton, chair of the Mental Health Act Commission said that many problems in delivering local services stemmed from the constant requirement to implement new strategies. She urged Milburn to stabilise the sector by holding his nerve and sticking to the ten-year plan, rather than circumvent it for 'electioneering purposes'.

But Milburn had earlier reiterated that the government would continue to be flexible in its attempts to provide the NHS with workable solutions to problems – even if that meant increased use of the private sector.

'People want flexibility, responsiveness and choice in the system. Even NHS staff members talk about [the problem of] fighting the current system rather than working with it,' he claimed.

Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, agreed that some short-term solutions would benefit the health service and that viewing the ten-year plan as a cure-all could destabilise the NHS in the meantime.

But she stressed that it would take time to engender the cultural change necessary to provide a lasting world-class service.


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