The revised guidance on hospital reconfiguration was slipped out last week at the height of the summer holiday period.
The well informed campaigners battling to “save” London’s Whittington hospital were outside Richmond House the day after publication and The Guardian followed up HSJ’s online coverage, but otherwise it was mission accomplished for the Department of Health’s media managers.
‘Those campaigners who celebrated “victory” in early May are likely to return with redoubled fury’
During the election all parties avoided the hard questions about how unsafe services would be improved or efficiencies delivered. HSJ readers knew the reckoning would arrive pretty swiftly after 6 May.
With the eyes of the health world on him, the new health secretary rapidly declared a moratorium on all reconfigurations. When HSJ challenged him on the price for this move, Mr Lansley declared the plans would not deliver “short term reductions in cost”.
The DH promised “clear standards” for future reconfigurations would be published in June. Instead, two months late, we have further guidance which effectively leaves the final decision up to the DH’s new “national management system”. The only really clear piece of information is the 31 October deadline for the submission of proposals.
But let us not carp too much. At least this pressing work can be picked up again without too much delay. Expect pragmatism to rule the day and the majority of planned reconfigurations to get the green light - at least in part.
But expect too the scales to fall from a number of eyes. Those campaigners who celebrated “victory” in early May are likely to return with redoubled fury. GPs - the future reconfiguration gatekeepers - will be relieved that many of the thorny issues will be grasped before they settle into the hot seat, but the controversy to come will make them feel even more nervous about their new role.