Banishing the NHS paper pushers to cut waste and red tape

Finger on the Pulse- pointless and costly bureaucracy and ludicrous management salaries have no place in this era of austerity.
Banishing the NHS paper pushers to cut waste and red tapeSeveral years ago, a friend worked as a temp in the NHS. She was the secretary to a group of middle management in a primary care trust (PCT) and spent the summer holiday before going to law school running their office. Within a few weeks, she quit. Not because she couldn’t do the job, but because she was disgusted with the waste she witnessed.

She was told not to work too hard. She would sit in meetings where the same things were discussed repeatedly without any decision being made. She was taken aside by a colleague when she attempted to improve efficiency and asked if she wanted to make everyone unemployed. It was shortly after this incident that she walked out.

All this was particularly galling to me at the time. I was working on a ward for elderly patients with dementia, and the ward didn’t even have its own resuscitation equipment. Instead, the clinical staff had to beg, borrow or steal from other wards. The amount of fruit that patients were given at lunchtime was cut.

I would sit in outpatient clinics and have to tell the families of people with Alzheimer’s that I wasn’t allowed to prescribe the anti-dementia drugs for their loved ones because the government had decreed that at £2.50 a day, they were too costly.

Frontline NHS staff look at the legions of paper-pushers in their offices and wring their hands in despair. Something needs to be done to prune this stratum in the health service, and last week there were the first signs that this might happen.

The Coalition government’s recent plans to improve the NHS will see PCTs and strategic health authorities scrapped. This is a bold move. In recent years, these organisations have morphed into unwieldy bodies that do little more than provide jobs for people who have no hard clinical skills, but who couldn’t quite hack it in the corporate sector.

While these organisations have responsibility for patient care, they are distant and detached, and it is difficult to see how they contribute in any meaningful way to the day-to-day care of patients. Yet, they cost millions to maintain. A report published last week found that more than 300 NHS executives have salaries larger than the Prime Minister.

Ian Miller, for example, worked as the interim director of finance and investment for South East Coast Strategic Health Authority and earned £310,000 for nine months’ work from April 2009 to January 2010. This equates to £400,000 a year, which would pay for 14 nurses. Financial experts have described these salaries as “unsustainable”.

The plans are not without potential pitfalls: will GPs, for example, be able to manage such large budgets effectively? But I wholeheartedly support the essence of these proposals, which is that pointless and costly bureaucracy and ludicrous management salaries have no place in this era of austerity.

I also believe that giving power to clinicians will benefit patients. It’s doctors and nurses who have a far greater understanding of what is needed and where resources should be directed than a person with an MBA sitting in an office well away from the action.

My friend, who is now a successful corporate lawyer, says that if the NHS wants to operate along corporate lines, it needs to heed corporate principles: no business would employ so many people who don’t do what the business is set up to do – namely to treat patients.

I hope the Government’s proposals address this once and for all, and that patients and those who care for them are put back at the centre of the NHS.


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