Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has said the NHS Commissioning Board “couldn’t carry on” in its current form under his proposals to reshape health and social care.
Mr Burnham, who was launching a consultation on “whole person care” at the Kings Fund in London today, said he was unhappy at what he sees as the board’s lack of democratic accountability.
The former Labour health secretary argues that around £63bn of community, mental health and acute sector funding should be channelled through councils and fully integrated with social care.
Under proposals launched today, health and wellbeing boards would become the “pre-eminent” decision making bodies for health and social care, while clinical commissioning groups would be relegated to an advisory role.
Asked what the role of the commissioning board should be, Mr Burnham said he had an “open mind”.
“I’m not happy with the lack of democratic accountability,” he said, “the idea that ‘we’re in charge now and it doesn’t really matter what the secretary of state says any more.’”
“The public want politicians put on the spot to provide good safe healthcare everywhere. It’s their job. They’ve got to be accountable for it. If it isn’t happening, they [should be] able to step in and do something about it.”
Mr Burnham acknowledged that for some specialised services, the board has brought “some clarity that wasn’t there before.
“So I’m not necessarily opposing a more arm’s length function at national level to advise on the planning and commissioning of services.
“But the democratic accountability is essential. And that does mean that as they have created it, the commissioning board model couldn’t carry on.”
The shadow health secretary also condemned the planned reconfiguration of acute services in south London as “a nonsense”.
“Powers are being used there for which they were not intended. I know that because I brought those powers onto the statute book.
“It cannot be right that you solve one trust’s financial problems by whipping away the accident and emergency unit of another.
“That’s a market and finance running hospital reconfiguration, and it cannot be done like that.”
He added that councils would be able to run reconfigurations without descending into conflict over which area gets to keep their local services open if they adopted joint decision making similar to the “city region” approach seen in Greater Manchester.