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The NHS will soon be less accountable: that's good news for the health reform lobby

The government has snuck out changes to make it harder than ever for English citizens to obtain information on their health service. The move will benefit private providers ready to muscle in on the National Health Service

While battle rages over the government’s controversial reforms of the NHS, the Department of Health has sneaked out two toxic changes that could seriously damage your health by promoting ignorance and restricting your rights as a citizen.

The two changes appear to be unconnected but are extremely helpful to new private providers of  NHS medical services. One will limit the information that the private firms have to provide under the Freedom of Information Act to patients and relatives, the other will help them by abolishing the collection of health statistics on the services they provide and the quality of staff they employ.

The first has been revealed by the authoritative Campaign for Freedom of Information who are rightly demanding that Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, amends the law so patients can be protected. See their letter here.              .

This is incredibly serious, as their director Maurice Frankel outlines:

“Suppose there is concern about the use of potentially contaminated medical supplies by hospitals. For an NHS hospital, the FOI Act could be used to obtain details of stocks of the product, the number of doses administered, the numbers of affected patients, the quality control measures in place, correspondence with suppliers, minutes of meetings at which the problem was discussed and information showing what measures were considered, what action was taken, how promptly and with what results. 

This level of information would clearly not be available in relation to independent providers treating NHS patients. This would represent a major loss of existing information rights.”

The second comes from a very convoluted consultation exercise launched the day after the August bank holiday and trumpeted by Anne Milton, the public health minister, as a drive against "red tape”.

This proposes to slash the collection of statistics by the Department of Health by 25 per cent in a rather uneven and unclear way. But it is clear that the aim is to "minimise the burden” on the NHS and in particular the new private providers.

Half the statistics collected on the NHS workforce – which are used to improve staff training and forecast the need for skilled staff – are to be dropped. The consultation document says: “This will be of significance for non-NHS providers of NHS services as it will determine the minimum workforce information they would be required to provide.”

And also being reduced are the statistics on the very sensitive political area of waiting times, targets for treatments and capacity of hospitals. The paper says: “the content and frequency.. should remain under review so that the right information is provided by the NHS at a sensible frequency and in so doing the burden to the NHS is minimised.”

Collection of  statistics giving the national picture on mental health are being abolished and the collection of statistics on patient safety look like being hived off to a private firm.

The one area that is being improved is cancer statistic collection which seems to be tied to a pledge by David Cameron.

What is particularly disturbing is that despite the document running to 55 pages at no point is a definitive list published of what is being scrapped. You can read the document if you can bear it. 

Frankly Andrew Lansley should not be allowed to get away with either of these moves. The Department needs to change its position on the former and come clean on the latter.

You can write to Mr Lansley about these changes at mb-sofs@dh.gsi.gov.uk or on his direct email at andrew.lansley@dh.gsi.gov.uk.

This piece was originally published on David Hencke's blog.

About the author

David Hencke is a freelance investigative journalist based in the Parliament and the former Westminster correspondent of The Guardian newspaper. He now writes for a wide range of publications as well as works for Raw Cut, an independent TV production company. His website is http://davidhencke.wordpress.com.


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