It is rarely easy to spot when a policy statement or media report has undue political spin on it. As a hard fought general election approaches it can be near impossible.
Two such stories have had my antennae twitching. One pointed a suspicious finger at the Conservatives, the other at Labour ministers. And yes, the page one “Labour hid ugly truth about NHS” headline in The Sunday Times was the one with suspected Tory DNA.
Take heart from that IHI report, which notes the “frequent sounds of distress and criticism” of the NHS are “signs of loyalty, hopefulness and caring”
And so it proved. The paper claimed that three reports on the NHS, commissioned by Lord Darzi from reputable non-profit US health think tanks, had been “suppressed” - a way of saying “not given to us”.
What the reports seem to have identified became the focus of Darzi’s 2008 report, High Quality Care for All - the need to improve quality: the total patient experience of the NHS. Too much structural tinkering, targets at the expense of outcomes, bad relations between doctors and managers, flawed inspection regimes, and weaknesses were all known long before the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust disaster.
All parties now promise to fix it by decentralising power - and trust, stresses the report from one of the three think tanks, the Boston based Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Better standards should be driven by a private standards agency, adds the Joint Commission International report.
The Department of Health is pretty unapologetic about all this, as it is about targets, which did an important job. Quite right too. In any case, you can read all three reports on the Policy Exchange website.
Yes, that is right, the Freedom of Information request which generated the Sunday Times report was made by the fashionable Tory think tank. Nothing wrong with that, though it would help to know. Alas, the paper did not find room for this passage from the IHI’s report:
“The Americans on our IHI team confess readily to envy. We wish that our nation had the commitment, coherence and history of investment that England does with a values-driven, equitable, population minded and potentially integrated healthcare system with deep roots in primary care…”
My other twitch this week was over a Financial Times story. It accused Labour ministers of intervening to stop the embarrassing ruling from the DH’s own cooperation and competition panel that Andy Burnham’s “NHS is preferred provider” statement last September breaches NHS and EU procurement rules.
At the time Great Yarmouth and Waveney Primary Care Trust in Norfolk had just invited outside tenders on community services, only to withdraw the offer in favour of NHS bids after Burnham’s speech. Private and voluntary providers later protested to the panel.
Its ruling was due until last week when PCTs across eastern England were ordered to suspend community service procurement, a move which left the panel with no case to adjudicate.
“Naked politics,” says the King’s Fund’s John Appleby.
True? Few local MPs I contacted seemed to know about it, although Norfolk Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb says it looks suspicious. The next government will have to restore competition anyway, he says.
Again, the DH is unapologetic. The Yarmouth case was “overtaken by events” following new guidance, Transforming Community Services, in February. Mr Burnham’s September statement “denotes a fair process, not a permanent status. It should not be used to allow underperformance to continue, nor to freeze out our partners in the independent and third sector”.
Still puzzled? Take heart from that IHI report, which notes the “frequent sounds of distress and criticism” of the NHS are “signs of loyalty, hopefulness and caring”.
Write your own manifesto
Have you ever felt so frustrated with the political parties’ health policies that you wished you could write your own? Now your chance has come.
On hsj.co.uk we have set up two wikis - websites that allows users to easily (and anonymously) create and edit content - to enable managers and clinicians to develop their own policy ideas. At the time of writing they are blank, awaiting the collective wisdom of HSJ readers.