NHS constitution is no defence against commercialisation

Responding to the signing of the new labour NHS constitution, Health Direct and the NHS Support Federation is warning that it is too weak to protect the core ideas behind the NHS against the impact of commercialisation.

Labour “Government lawyers have been working long and hard to ensure that the NHS constitution which was launched yesterday cannot be used to stop its commercialisation programme, but it is this precisely which is the greatest threat to the values and principles of the health service.

“The first test for the NHS constitution will come quickly as the plan to extend competition and patient choice will in fact bring greater unfairness, poorer care for some patients and waste public resources.”

The Federation believes that the terms of the constitution are at odds with the impact of government policy. The NHS constitution states that “The NHS is an integrated system of organisations and services bound together by the principles and values now reflected in the Constitution”.

In reality the NHS is becoming more fragmented as more commercial providers are contracted to run NHS services.

However the public cannot use the constitution to defend the core values of the NHS unless it counts in law. The Federation is calling on MPs to look at this aspect as the new Health Bill passes through Parliament.

“The current economic crisis shows that we cannot rely on commercial companies to act in ways which protect the public interest. Yet the labour government is placing commercial values at the heart of the NHS. It is doubtful that the NHS constitution will be any match for the large corporate interests currently looking to run NHS services.”

– Paul Evans, director of the NHS Support Federation

In Friday, June 06, 2008’s post Health Direct repeated the Financial Times’s Editorial and wrote: NHS constitution- another bad labour idea

The key test of any health reform should be whether it will actually improve the quality of care that patients receive.

By any measure, the latest big new idea from Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, fails the test: that, after muddling along without one for 60 years, the National Health Service in England (healthcare is now devolved in Scotland and Wales) should have a constitution.

The very origins of the idea betray its weakness. It was initially dreamt up by Andy Burnham, then a junior health minister, as a means of celebrating the NHS’s 60th anniversary this July.

Why not, he mused, lay out the service’s values and ethos, setting out what patients can expect in terms of rights and responsibilities?

The real motivation, however, was far tawdrier.

Labour hoped that something could be written about the service being tax-funded and largely free at the point of use in language that the Conservative opposition would balk at. Labour would then go into the next election arguing that the NHS was not safe in Tory hands.

The “NHS constitution” which Alan Johnson launched yesterday utterly fails this test.

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