Bliar ally says Tories are best for NHS
Professor David Kerr, a renowned oncologist who led efforts to cut waiting and give hospitals greater independence, said that the Tories now offered the best chance for the NHS, which had been driven into a “whirl of thoughtless tick-box exercises”.
Professor Kerr, a lifelong Labour supporter who campaigned with Tony Blair in the 2001 general election, told The Times that the key principles of giving patients a better choice of health services and a better understanding of how they were performing had been “driven into the sand”.
“To say that we have run out of steam, I would say definitely, definitely yes,” Professor Kerr said. “We have got lost in the blizzard of increasingly irrelevant targets. The position now is disenfranchising, dull and disconnected. That is the clinical reality.”
The doctor, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Oxford, was a frequent visitor to Downing Street as Labour drew up its reform agenda in Mr Blair’s first and second terms.
Under Labour he worked on ways to improve access as chair of the national Cancer Services Collaborative and became a founding commissioner of the Commission for Health Improvement, the first regulator to assess NHS clinical performance.
He was also one of the main drivers of the foundation trust scheme, offering the best hospitals the chance to become more independent, hold greater responsibility for their budgets and make clinicians more engaged in service improvement. A knife-edge Commons division on foundation status was won by 17 votes after Professor Kerr wrote to all MPs underlining the advantages that it would bring.
In 2005 he was given the task of developing a 20-year plan for the future of the NHS in his native Scotland, known as the Kerr Report.
Professor Kerr said that he felt “for the first time in [his] life” that the Tories offered the health service a better future. He said that the Conservative priority of getting NHS data out to patients in an understandable form, allowing them to choose the highest standard of service best suited to them, was a mission that disappeared with the departure of Mr Blair.
“[The Tories] are more committed to the NHS that we love and understand as free at the point of access and offering universal care. Only that degree of certainty would convince me to go and work for them.”
Professor Kerr would not be drawn on whether he had been a member of the Labour Party, but said that currently he was not a member of any political party.
He said that he hoped to push through the ideas of choice and the empowered patient, encouraging the NHS to make more high-quality information publicly available. “People need to be able to understand how their hospital is improving,” he said.
Another focus will be to allow patients to ask clinicians key questions about care standards without compromising the doctor/patient relationship.
“I firmly believe for the first time in my life that we have a Conservative leadership that is committed to the future of the health service. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be there.”
On informed choice for patients, he said that under the Government “the whole big idea ended up in the foothills of dodgy websites. No one was really engaging with it.”
He identified the loss of momentum “around when the transition happened”, with things “starting to lose the plot” under Patricia Hewitt as Health Secretary, then Alan Johnson, “who is good on many fronts, but was more interested in keeping the NHS out of the headlines”.
Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health spokesman, said of Professor Kerr: “His expertise and knowledge will be crucial in helping us to create a NHS which has patients at its centre. That a key architect of the Blairite health reforms is now working with the Conservatives shows that under David Cameron’s leadership we have truly become the party of the NHS.”