Headlines: May 17th, 2001

The King’s Fund are among those stakeholders in health who have expressed immediate concerns about the further involvement of the private sector in the future development of the NHS.The measure is suggested in the Labour Party’s manifesto, launched yesterday.

Pundits have looked to the lack of indications of further funding increases for the NHS beyond the three year plans already outlined, and to the call in the manifesto for fresh thinking about the potential of the private sector to help improve the performance of public services like the NHS. They wonder whether further performance improvement is expected from some kind of routine partnering with the private sector after 2005 – in the provison of day to day services as well as the current capital projects like PFI schemes.

The King’s Fund says that private sector involvement is not some kind of ‘magic bullet’ – and point to the US experience which suggests privately managed hospitals are no more efficient than those run publicly.

The King’s Fund says ‘The NHS is not a series of ‘factories’ that gives out drugs and carries out operations conveyor-belt fashion. It provides a complex web of services for people whose outcomes are not easily measurable.’

It quotes a recent report from the Government’s own think tank, the Performance and Innovation Unit which noted: ‘excessively directive methods of government that appear to treat front-line deliverers as unable to think for themselves, untrustworthy or incompetent, undermine the very motivation and adaptability on which real-world success depends’. Like the King’s Fund they recommend ‘sufficient freedom for those on the ground to innovate and adapt policy to local conditions’.