My mission statement

The times we are working in now need a great deal of accelerated change and there must be no negotiating that down. So my mission statement for this part of my consultancy career is to be clear that there needs to be and will be a lot of change from the work that I do with individuals and organisations and if organisations don’t want that, then it is probably best to go somewhere else.

Read my statement in full »

“If you have tears prepare to shed them now”. The next set of problems for the BMA.

Filed Under (BMA) by Paul on 25-06-2012

When it examines the outcomes of its industrial action last week what lessons does the BMA learn and how does it decide what to do next?

As I commented on Friday it is difficult to understand how they might decide whether or not the industrial action was successful. They will have local reports telling them how well their membership engaged with the action. There will have been a few resignations but I suspect that, by and large, the membership will have taken action as recommended. (It is after all a bit easier to take inaction than to take action). Read the rest of this entry »

A short note on the coming problems for the BMA……

Filed Under (BMA) by Paul on 22-06-2012

Yesterday’s industrial action by the BMA showed how difficult it is going to be for the doctors’ union to develop a popular narrative to explain it.

As the day developed it was clear that the vast bulk of media opinion was not just opposed to their going on strike but became more furious about the nature of the issue for which they were striking when they understood it better. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctors to take industrial action to secure better pensions than most of their patients.

Filed Under (BMA, Uncategorized) by Paul on 31-05-2012

Blog readers will remember the fury of the BMA when the Government continued with their Health and Social Care Act . Month after month – from the autumn of 2010 to the passage of the Bill in March 2012 – the BMA warned that the Bill would endanger the NHS.  Read the rest of this entry »

Just what was the BMA opposing in 1948?

Filed Under (Aneurin Bevan, BMA, Health Policy) by Paul on 30-04-2012

A couple of weeks ago I reiterated the position that I often take about the BMA – the one that reminds us all that in February 1948 over 90% of the BMA said that they, as doctors, would not be a part of the NHS. Then, in July of the same year over 90% of GPs joined. Read the rest of this entry »

The BMA – passionate in its defence of the state and in its attack on markets. Unless the state is against their members’ interests, or markets are in favour of them.

Filed Under (BMA) by Paul on 13-03-2012

The BMA’s recent letter (on 1st March) calling into question the NHS reforms and arrangements for commissioning support was a masterpiece of its kind. At one and the same time they were anxious that the reforms gave the central state too much power over CCGs and anxious that markets were being given too much power over GPs.

I felt it summed up over 60 years of political pain that the BMA has suffered at the hands of government and markets. It must be really hard for them. Read the rest of this entry »

If the BMA really believe that Government reforms ‘will be irreversibly damaging to the NHS’ why are they only balloting about industrial action over their personal pensions?

Filed Under (BMA) by Paul on 05-03-2012

10 days ago when the BMA announced its ballot on industrial action over Government proposals to change doctor’s pensions a number of friends raised the above question with me.

I didn’t post about this last week since it directly questions people’s motivation and the priorities of their politics. But during the week, on most of the days when I was working in the NHS, people raised this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

The BMA’s legendary political consistency strikes again

Filed Under (BMA, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Primary Care Trusts) by Paul on 05-01-2012

Before Christmas I wrote a post that called into question the depth of the BMA’s love for current PCT staff. I pointed out that in their latest guidance they were extolling the virtues of current PCT staff to BMA members leading clinical commissioning groups as being the best experts in commissioning. I suggested that they were doing this because in the last couple of years they have become fearful of new private sector firms selling their services to GP led commission groups. Read the rest of this entry »

Q. When does the BMA seek to restrict the choices of its independent professional members?

Filed Under (BMA, Clinical Commissioning Groups, GP Commissioning, GPs) by Paul on 22-12-2011

A. When they might chose to do something with which the BMA disagrees.

Over the years the BMA, like any effective trade union, has always stood up for its member’s right to make their own choices. All trades unions do this and the BMA is assisted in this role by the professional autonomy training that all doctors receive.

Whilst this is true of all doctors, it is even truer for GPs because GPs have also traditionally run their own businesses. Therefore, as small business people, it has been up to them where they get their accountancy or legal advice from. Similarly it has been up to GPs to decide whom they might employ as receptionists or nurses. Read the rest of this entry »

The big show down. The BMA and its fight with patient choice

Filed Under (BMA, Patient Choice) by Paul on 09-09-2011

Last week’s BMA briefing on the Health and Social Care Bill not only argued their continuing opposition to the Government reform, but demonstrated how much they wanted to move the NHS away from modern society.

In June readers will remember that the Government’s reform of its reforms argued that they would amend their Bill to make it clear that they would outlaw any Health Minister that argued for a change in the proportion of NHS services that were provided by the public sector, the private sector or the voluntary sector. They did this because they had been stung by the accusation that they had a policy of increasing the share of NHS services to be provided by the private sector.

So, true to their principles, they reversed the policy from being one in favour of increasing the size of the private sector to one where you were not legally allowed to have a view on it at all.

This new law would outlaw a policy where a Minister, or Monitor, argued – for example – for a higher proportion of third sector organisation hospices providing services for end of life care.  The outlawing of this statement was meant to prevent the accusation that the Government was in some way against NHS public service provision.

If the current state of provision was, say, 30% private, 30% third sector, and 40% public sector then freezing proportions may in some way make sense. But given that for most parts the NHS provides well over 90% of provision, this policy freezes provision in very unequal proportions.

The aim of this new law was to argue that Government could not have a policy of increasing the proportion of care from a sector. However the Government was NOT saying that they would stop individual patients from choosing whatever provision they wanted. So if a large number of patients chose, for example, to move their end of life care from an NHS hospital to a voluntary sector hospice, the government would say this was up to them and not caused by Government policy.

It was not having a policy which would tell patients what to do that has made them fall foul of the BMA. .

At the time I suggested that whilst the BMA and other public sector trades unions would welcome the fact that the Government no longer wanted to have a policy of increasing competition in the NHS, the policy of Government neutrality would not appease them.

They would not rest until the Government had a policy of outlawing the private sector from providing any more services for NHS patients.

Last week’s BMA briefing made it clear that this was now their position.

“ In relation to the increased use of the private sector in providing care, the changes in the Bill put a duty on the Secretary of State, Monitor and the NHSCB not to ‘exercise  <their> functions for the purpose of causing a variation in the proportion of services provided  by any sector. This does not prevent such a variation taking place as a result of market forces < e.g. patients choosing more providers from a particular sector through AQP- any qualified provider>

The BMA believes that

  • Although the Government has attempted to address concerns about the increased use of the private sector, there is still too much emphasis on using ‘market forces’ to shape health services. The Bill still allows for there to be an increase in the use of private sector providers”

BMA briefing page 2

This is a really important explanation of the BMA’s position and it gives us a view of the kind of society that they want to create. It demonstrates how far they are prepared to change the nature of an open society in order to appease their own fear of the private sector.

Since they argue that the Bill is flawed because it “allows for there to be an increase in the use of private sector providers”, presumably a good Bill would in some way outlaw any such increase.

Since the Bill does not ‘prevent such a variation taking place as a result of market forces – for example patients choosing more providers for a particular sector’  presumably a good Bill would in some way outlaw patient choice if that choice was to result in a higher proportion of NHS care being provided by the private sector.

In an open society this is extreme stuff. It is worth a moment’s quiet thought about the sort of society these restrictions would create.

The BMA want a bill that would make it illegal for private sector organisations to provide a higher proportion of NHS health care than they do at the moment. Even more shocking is the fact that the BMA would be satisfied with a Bill that would make it illegal for patients to choose to have their operation carried out by a private sector provider if that movement increased the proportion of provision for NHS patients from the private sector.

In the past there has been much talk by the BMA about their concern that patients are individually not really up to making these choices.

But here it is clear that they are not frightened of the individual capability of patients to make these choices but they are really worried that the overall outcome of making these choices might increase the proportion of private sector providers for NHS patients.

They want to restrict patient choice for directly political reasons.

But what sort of society do they want to create?

The BMA and the Health and Social Care Bill. – Give them a mile and they want a trip to the moon.

Filed Under (BMA, Health and Social Care Bill, Narrative of reform, Secretary of State) by Paul on 08-09-2011

Last week the BMA wrote to all MPs outlining their continued hostility to the Health and Social Care Bill. Their briefing behind that letter makes really interesting reading. Two main political themes emerge. The second of these I will post about tomorrow.

The first is that despite (but I think really because of) the Government’s June reform of its own reforms, the BMA still thinks the Bill needs to either be withdrawn or substantially amended.

 “The BMA acknowledges the efforts of Government to listen to and address some of the concerns that have been expressed about the Bill to date. Despite some improvements to the Bill over the summer and , despite there being some positive aspects to the reforms, such as getting clinicians more involved in planning health care, real problems remain. This BMA still believes that the Government reform plans pose an unacceptably high risk to the NHS in England, threatening its ability to operate effectively and equitably, now and in the future. This is why the BMA continues to call for the Bill to be withdrawn, or at the very least, to be subject to further, significant amendment.”

BMA Briefing on the Bill

The Prime Minister’s belief that following the amendments he forced on the Secretary of State in June, the profession would support the Bill, has not really worked.

This I am afraid comes back to the same problem as of a year ago. Then the Government had no narrative for its reforms. It did not offer an explanation of what the big problem with the NHS was, and could never therefore explain how the detail of their reforms would solve it. What was the question to which GP commissioning was the answer? Not having told us what the problem was they had to be hazy about how their reforms would tackle it.

There was a very big hole where the Government’s narrative should have been and since everyone assumed they must have some sort of reason for doing it people began to find their own explanations for why the biggest health bill ever was being pushed through Parliament.

A range of explanations surfaced, all of which seem to add up to an overarching narrative that the Government had a “”secret plan to privatise the NHS”. Indeed by the time the Government called for a pause in their reform programme in April/May last year nearly 60% of the population believed that the Conservatives had such a plan.

This is a very difficult place for a Government to be. How do you counter the idea of a ‘secret plan’? Every time you deny it the point is reinforced, because you are not going to tell us – because it is ‘secret’.

So anxiety about this public belief led to the sound of the screeching of brakes being applied – and a dramatic U turn. This was the attempt to create the narrative that they had changed their changes, and for a few weeks this was good, if very temporary, politics. Many people recognised that the Government had indeed changed their changes.

But the problem for the reform of the reforms – from June onwards – is that there is still no simple explanation of the problem that this new set of Government reforms is going to solve. If the Government could not explain to us what problem GP led commissioning consortia was going to solve, how would “clinical commissioning groups in close relationship with clinical senates” solve anything? The new explanation of the big picture was even more elusive.

The last three months have been very similar to the previous six.  Where was the narrative for which Conservative MPs could argue as they went out into the country? “This is the problem with the NHS and this is how our reforms will solve it.”

At best Tory MPs can say that these new reforms are better than the previous ones. But that’s not a confident narrative that they can take out and argue for.

So over the summer the BMA found itself still in the same position that it had been since December 2010 when the Bill was published. They had no Government narrative to compete with. They have never had to disprove what the Government was saying, they only had to create their own story about what the government were planning to do and people would give it credibility.

On the streets of many towns in England last weekend people were being asked to sign a petition to ‘save the NHS’ (which many people would of course sign). The Government have failed to force those people, and others such as the BMA, to engage in a powerful debate about what they are doing.

The best that any believer in the reforms could do when confronted with the petition is say that “honestly, we don’t want to privatise the NHS”. They could not say “we are doing it for these clear reasons”.

This was clearly demonstrated by the statement from the Secretary of State in the papers earlier this week that said simply that it was ‘scaremongering to say that his plans were aiming to privatise the NHS’.

So at the precise moment when the public is looking for a lead from the Government as to why the Bill as back in the House of Commons what it came up with was still not an explanation of why they are doing it. The best guidance the public have been offered is an argument that says that other people’s explanations are in some way scary.

In terms of the politics of the reform programme September is a lot like March. The Prime Minister successfully got his Secretary of State to change his policy, but the problem had not been with the policy, it had been with the lack of explanation of the policy. So the PM solved the wrong problem. He changed the policy and made it even more difficult to construct an explanation. And he left as his Secretary of State someone who is really very, very interested in the detail of policy.

But given that the Secretary of State couldn’t really explain the big picture of why a reform policy that he had spent 6 years creating mattered, he is not likely to be able to explain the big picture of a policy that has been cobbled together in a few weeks by a range of people he doesn’t know.