Labour may stop Manchester’s NHS devolution deal

22 Apr 15

Andy Burnham has indicated he may halt plans to devolve £6bn of NHS spending to Greater Manchester if Labour is in power after the general election, saying has ‘real misgivings’ about the scheme.

The party’s health spokesman said the proposal, which was agreed in February by local authorities and NHS bodies as well as the Treasury, was ‘drawn up in haste on the back of an envelope’.

Speaking at a health debate held yesterday by six organisations in the sector including the King’s Fund and the British Medical Association, Burnham said he supported greater local decision-making as part of his plans for integrated health and social care. This would allow local areas to determine how to best to meet nationally set standards.

However, the plan for Greater Manchester did not meet this objective, he said.

‘I support the principle of devolution, and I was the first person on this panel this morning to call for true integration of health and social care,’ he said.

‘But what is happening in Greater Manchester seems to have been drawn up in haste on the back of an envelope, no-one really consulted the MPs of Greater Manchester, and it failed in my eyes the reorganisation test – it’s giving me a new body to write to at the Greater Manchester level.’

He said he would have to examine how the plan had progressed if he was in office following the election on May 7.

‘I have real misgivings about it. They’ve signed a memorandum of understanding and we have to see where things have reached.’

Burnham, the MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester in the last parliament, said that instead of devolution to regional bodies, integration should happen at health and wellbeing boards, which mirror local authority boundaries.

‘Greater Manchester is not the local level, in my area Wigan and Leigh is the local level. What I’m saying is integration happens at that level.’

Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the event the Manchester plan could be expanded to other parts of England, but this would depend on local circumstances.

Standards of care should be set nationally, with local areas deciding how these are delivered, he said, which would vary from area to area.

‘I don’t want to have a model where it is forced under the control of councils, I think that would amount to another reorganisation. There are some areas like Manchester where local councils are the right people to take the lead, there are other areas where there are very strong acute trusts and they’re the natural people to take the lead, and there are other areas where it could be GP in consortiums.

‘But if you’re offering integrated care on the basis of single budgets and potentially a year of care tariff – which I think is the way forward – then you will need a lead provider, someone who is organising the care area by area. I think we can leave that to local areas. What is happening in Manchester is a very welcome step forward for that area, which may well be followed in other places.’

The Liberal Democrat care minister Norman Lamb agreed that aside from setting national targets for a single health and social care budget by 2018, the centre should not impose solutions on local areas.

Lamb, the who is aiming to regain his North Norfolk seat, said he would back the Greater Manchester proposals if he was involved in the next government.

‘I would argue for it. I would love Norfolk take more control of how their health service is run, absolutely.

‘I don’t want Whitehall to constantly impose change from the centre and I think we should allow some diversity. This is totally in line with the Simon Stevens Five Year Forward View vision, and we have to innovate.’

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