Lord Howe yesterday suggested the government needed to be more balanced in its “messaging” to counter a fall in public confidence in the NHS following a series of investigations and inquiries into poor care.
The health minister said there had been a shift from the mood of public celebration of the NHS during last year’s Olympics, and “now the pendulum has swung far too far the other way, and people think that standards are slipping, which they are not”.
He told a conference in Westminster that this was a consequence of “the work done by [NHS England medical director Sir] Bruce Keogh”, who the government tasked with conducting a review of high mortality rate hospitals in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry.
“It unfortunately is a feature of our national life that certain newspapers like to alarm people,” Lord Howe told the Independent Healthcare Forum.
“And I’ve come to feel that whilst we don’t want to cover up the bad, and we want to confront it and make sure we can cure it, nevertheless there is a need I think for more balance in the messaging that we put around this, and the language that we use.
“I’m not keen on the phrase ‘failing hospitals’.”
He added: “I’ve said to Jeremy Hunt, and he totally agrees, that ministers in particular have got to take the opportunity whenever possible to celebrate the excellent and the good.”
The minister also warned that clinical commissioning groups pursuing “lead provider” contracts should not undermine the purpose of the NHS reforms by delegating their commissioning responsibilities to other organisations.
Earl Howe said he would be “very concerned if prime vendors turned into substitutes for local clinical decision making”.
He added: “We very consciously, in framing the legislation, made sure that the one thing that the clinical leaders in the CCG cannot do is delegate their commissioning function.
“They can delegate a whole lot of back office stuff, commissioning support. But commissioning support must not encroach onto the decision making around commissioning.”