Published: 06/12/2001, Volume III, No. 5784 Page 9

The team of health and social care change agents set up to tackle bed-blocking in 50 'hot-spot' areas has hit controversy before it begins work, with the NHS Confederation expressing 'astonishment' that it will be run separately from the NHS Modernisation Agency.

Health minister Jacqui Smith this week announced that the team - a key part of the£300m 'cash for change' delayed discharge programme - would be led by Richard Humphries, who currently heads both a health authority and a local authority social services department.

He will report directly to chief social services inspector Denise Platt and older people's services director Professor Iain Philp.

NHS Confederation policy manager Janice Miles said she was 'really pleased' by Richard Humphries' appointment, but added: 'What is absolutely astonishing is that this post and team seem to be working separately from the Modernisation Agency. I can't understand why this post is accountable to Denise Platt and not the Modernisation Agency.

'These are just the things the Modernisation Agency is supposed to be doing. It has been set up to help managers and clinicians improve services. '

An agency spokesperson said 'they were looking forward to working with Mr Humphries and his team'. Mr Humphries' experience is thoroughly joined-up, through his dual role as Herefordshire HA chief executive and director of health, housing and social care at Herefordshire council.

Ms Platt, since July's Department of Health internal review, now has a wider role at the DoH as director of children, older people and social care services.

The DoH says that the change agents team will be 'modelled on the successful adoption taskforce', also under Ms Platt.

Mr Humphries, who will be on secondment from his dual role until 2003, said that as well as tackling delayed discharges, his 'other core role is to support the development of care trusts'.

The 'rules of engagement' were still under discussion, but Mr Humphries said: 'We do want to be seen as there to help. I am not going to wave a big stick. '

A team of eight reporting to Mr Humphries will start work in the near future with a£20m budget.