Andy Cowper anticipates some fine entertainment ahead as Matt Hancock tries to hurdle an open revolving door

I have to start this week’s column with an apology for inaccuracy.

In a previous instalment, I described Appless Matt ’Ancock, Secretary Of State For The Time Being, as “the poor man’s Chris Grayling”.

That is an inaccurate description of Mr ’Ancock, and for this I formally apologise.

It is inaccurate because it is incomplete.

The past week’s ongoing undulations of tech-utopianism from The Appman make it fully clear for us all to see that Matt Hancock is the poor man’s Chris Grayling with a PC World loyalty card.

This week, The Appman let it be known that NHSX (yes, really) will have an “open door policy” with the tech industry. Mr ’Ancock wants it to be “unashamedly open”.

I didn’t know that “ashamedly open” was A Thing. We live in innovative times indeed.

Indeed, if NHSX is a new joint unit, then as Mike Barnett asked, who’s in charge of skinning up?

Never mind the Ministerial Code or indeed the Nolan Principles of public life, eh? (Where, by the way, are the Department For Health But Social Care’s civil servants in this, let alone explaining NHS procurement rules to The Appman?) Shiny new tech! Shiny new tech!

The unevenly distributed future

Meanwhile, Mr ’Ancock’s chronic Babylon/GP At Hand Tourette’s may be in temporary remission, as we learn that he regards the hurdle for health app safety as being set too low. Limber up, members of the NHS tech-hurdling community!

This may be the result of a fairly worrying set of interrogations of the service’s “AI” chatbot set out by an NHS consultant to show the broad potential for harmful misdiagnosis, and also a consequence of doctor and journalist Margaret McCartney regarding the accuracy of the company’s advertising claims.

(It has been entertaining to see the company’s staff publicly asserting that doctors are required to inform this company about the inaccuracies of its chatbot product under the General Medical Council duties of a doctor. As William Gibson memorably said, “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”.)

Finally, we hear that Mr ’Ancock wants to ban pagers from the NHS by the end of 2021.

It is amusing that this man who voted at every stage for dear old Lord Lansley’s Health And Social Care Act 2012 at every opportunity – the act that explicitly legislated to devolve operational power and rescind day-to-day interference by the health secretary into operational running of the NHS – simply cannot shut up about the NHS’ IT. Which is the dictionary definition of an operational matter.

This thread by Harry Aagard Evans of The Kings Fund is a worthwhile summary of the system leadership implications of Mr ’Ancock’s tech-utopianism fetish.

To adapt Mike Shallcross’ fine line, Mr Hancock is to intellectual consistency what Gillian McKeith is to gastroenterology. We can anticipate some fine entertainment ahead as we see The Appman try to hurdle an open revolving door.

As I have stated repeatedly, IT is one of the many things in the NHS Queue Of Needing To Be Fixed.

But it is a long way behind workforce shortage and organisational culture; a long way behind understanding demand increases, as the Health Foundation show; a long way behind the curve in proper understanding of and respect for managers, as Steve Black outlines; and a long way behind ending the ugly tendency of the insecure and witless to use gibberish management-peak jargon in the efforts to convince themselves and others that they are Proper, Serious People, which John Launer skewers elegantly here in a paper that is both 13 years old and perfectly topical.

And The Appman is focusing on pagers, fax machines and unashamedly open doors to a high-hurdling tech industry.

Meanwhile, we learned that the NHS plans to respond to the Dadaist performance art that is the logistics and politics of Brexit by opening a logistics hub in Belgium.

Thank goodness for Mr ’Ancock’s sense of priorities.

So the media grid for the rest of this week probably looks like:

MONDAY: NHS to open chain of 24/7 Internet cafes as part of “digital first” scheme.

WEDNESDAY: New initiative for patients with analogue illnesses to be required to join NHSX’s private medical insurance subsidiary, NHSY.

FRIDAY: NHS buys first hospital in Lille as Brexit fallback.