The Independent London Newspaper
18th December 2017

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: Remove the cloak of secrecy over NHS ‘reorganisation’

    David Sloman, chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital

    David Sloman, chief executive of the Royal Free Hospital

    Published: 17 November, 2016

    DOES the 60-page Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), finally published this week by the NHS, reveal the true picture of what is in store?

    This latest massive top-down reorganisation of the NHS has been cloaked in secrecy since it was first announced last December.

    Throughout 2016, NHS chief executives, mental health bosses and council chiefs from the participating five north London boroughs have held meetings behind closed doors.

    Why wasn’t the public allowed in to these meetings? Why have they not, as is normally the case, had their meetings minuted and published online? There is a whiff of subterfuge about the way the project has been handled so far. 

    The comments from STP chief, the Royal Free’s David Sloman, made to this newspaper this week are the first time he has spoken publicly on the scheme. 

    In this democratic void, it is no wonder that anxiety among NHS campaigners has grown into a kind of frenzied speculation in recent months. The closure of the A&E at the Whittington? The sale of publicly-owned land and buildings? The rationalisation of frontline services? A loss of jobs? 

    The 60-page report published this week reveals very little detail about what is proposed. It is written in the kind of impenetrable language, corporate jargon and acronyms designed to exclude the general public. 

    The report makes vague threats to review the “duplication” of services in neighbouring hospitals and improving the relationship between social services and the NHS. It talks about providing “more care in the community” to an “ageing population”. It urges managers that there should be “no standing still” while making “tough decisions”. It reads more like a broken record rather than a truly ambitious plan to secure the future of the NHS. In fact, it appears very little work has gone into it at all. 

    Much of the report appears to be rehashed policy of Lord Ara Darzi, the Labour health adviser, who around 2007 attempted to make hospitals specialise in various treatments and create a network of “polyclinic” health centres.

    Shortly before the 2010, general election former health secretary Andrew Lansley came to Camden during the height of the campaign to save the Whittington A&E. He made bold promises that, if elected, he would dismantle Primary Care Trusts, which he said were making decisions against the collective wisdom of the medical profession and patients. He promised a new dawn for the NHS, free from red tape, and an end to all “top down reorganisations”. Fast forward six years to today, and the NHS is more hamstrung by these problems than ever before. 

    Over to you, Mr Sloman. How about taking the public with you this time?