Wednesday 9 February 2011

Spooky and Health

Well that was spooky! Walking along Whitehall talking to Andrew Lansley's Special Advisor on aspects of the Health Bill I bump into... Andrew Lansley. So some useful lobbying. I'm speaking to the Committee stage of the Health Bill at the Commons on Thursday so I'm getting briefed on key points we want to raise.

We strongly support the "any willing provider" concept, just as we opposed the misjudged "preferred provider" policy of Burnham. It is time for the health and social care market to be opened up to the myriad ranks of brilliant third sector bodies delivering health and social care and acting as a voice and advisor to patients.

As I've written before, this reform is a gamble. But we must work with the new GP Consortia in delivering more citizen focused services. This will be hard. Some GPs get it. They see the important role we must play in, say, long term condition management. Some do not.

And there is a need to ensure effective strategic direction for commissioning services. The DH and Monitor must be clear on their roles to provide advice and support for good commissioning. And some services must still be commissioned nationally.

The involvement of local Councils in promoting healthy communities is a welcome aspect of reform. The underlying problem faced by our health service is that we do not have a National Health Service. We have a national sickness service. Too few resources or attention is paid to promotion and prevention. Too little attention paid to how we can manage conditions through support in the community and, in the example of diabetes, better exercise and diet as opposed to pills.

So today is prep day. I'm speaking to the MPs in the morning, then on to speak at two conferences. Is a good job that having been around for yonks I don't need to spend too long preparing a speech. And I don't do PowerPoint; which is the death of good speaking and the prop of the nervous youth. And if I can't wax eloquent on the topic of the day - well that would be shocking.

Speaking truth to power. It's core to my role. But don't be fooled into thinking it's easy. An interesting phone call yesterday warning me I am not popular in all quarters of our governing class! But as a Big Society Knight I say that if I don't speak out against the cuts I'd be betraying the members who put me where I am.

I'm also clear that keeping your head below the parapet is a poor strategy that simply ensures you are ignored, taken for granted or dumped on. The leaders of the third sector are powerful figures. The public trust and support us. It would be a big mistake to take on the sector. I think the article by Francis Maude in yesterday's Times was unwise "Big Society is not about about pouring taxpayers money into the voluntary sector". This implies Government handouts to prop up charities as opposed to funding for the crucial work we do for our beneficiaries; people at the sharp end of deprivation, in excluded communities untouched by the state. To characterise our opposition to cuts as mere money grabbing is a an unfortunate reflection on the work of our sector in delivering a fairer society. I trust Francis will reflect on that before making that comment again. Members are not happy.

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