Health and Social Care – Parliamentary Round Up – July 2011

Column by Will Davies which appeared in the July edition of the English Community Care Association (ECCA) member's newsletter.

In the aftermath of the Coalition Government’s listening exercise, June proved to be a momentous month for the Department of Health, during which Health Secretary Andrew Lansley talked about a willingness to accept “substantial and significant” alterations to his controversial proposals.

The Government’s response to the consultation exercise was to accept the main recommendations of the Independent NHS Forum. The press screamed ‘U-Turn’ as did the opposition benches but David Cameron was quick to quell the naysayers:

“The fundamentals of our plans – more control for patients, more power to doctors and nurses, and less bureaucracy in the NHS – are as strong today as they have ever been. But the detail of how we are going to make this all work has really changed as a direct result of this consultation,” he said.

Indeed the consultation exercise had thrown up a series of amendments. These include: stronger safeguards against a market free-for-all and covert privatisation, greater information and choice for patients and wider involvement in clinical commissioning groups including nurses and specialists.

The Coalition’s full response to the independent NHS Future Forum’s report was published soon after outlining the Government’s plans for the NHS.

Speaking about the amended plans, the Health Secretary, said: “I have accepted the recommendations from the team of top health experts because they will improve care for patients.

“The last few weeks have shown broad agreement that there is an overwhelming case for a modernised NHS, and that the principles of putting patients at the centre, focusing on results and putting professionals in charge are the right ones.”

At the same time the Government committed to a new ‘Duty of Candour,’ a contractual requirement on providers to be open and transparent in admitting mistakes and confirmed that patients will continue to have the legal right to drugs and treatments that have been recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

As a tumultuous and historic month drew to a close, research into dementia took centre stage. Care Services Minister Paul Burstow launched a ‘Route Map for Dementia Research,’ pledging £20 million from the Department of Health over five years for four new National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Units. He also committed the Medical Research Council to increase funding for neurodegeneration research by ten per cent to £150 million over the next four years.

Launching the ‘Route Map’ Paul Burstow said: “We need to better understand dementia if we are to counter its effects more successfully. Research is the key to developing new treatments, transforming care and ultimately to finding a cure for this devastating disease.”

Almost lost amidst the furore surrounding NHS reform were two smaller announcements, relevant to the Health and Care sector. Health Minister Simon Burns had been on hand at the beginning of the month to launch a revamp of the LifeCheck tool on the NHS Choices website, as well as a new bar-coding system to ensure all hospitals pay the same price for products.

So Andrew Lansley and his colleagues can look back on a difficult and testing June with some relief. Implementing the reforms they have set out, in a way that keeps stakeholders on side while maintaining the NHS’s exalted position, will certainly be a massive challenge.

As Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “The NHS isn’t a machine. You can’t flick a switch and turn it on and off. It’s a living breathing part of our lives.”

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