NHS Reforms ‘Harm Patient Care’

NHS reforms harm patient care and ministers are making fraudulent claims about their impact, a doctor says. General surgeon David Flook accused the government of “incompetent” handling of the health service and called for more doctor-led management. He said fast-track cancer referral pushed the “worried well” to the front instead of those most at risk, the British Medical Journal reported. But the government said it had devolved power and made many improvements.

Mr Flook said expanding patient choice – from the start of this year people have been able to choose which hospital they are operated on in – was a “lottery”, given that many clinicians have no idea about the true abilities of their colleagues. Furthermore, he said, NHS managers are “no more than foot soldiers implementing the latest vote-winning initiative” from the Government.

He had said he had seen no evidence that expensive management consultants produced better results. “Even good managers can only make the NHS safe and fair, if freed from political control and willing to prioritise in accordance with guidance from the staff who treat the patients.”

Mr Flook, who works at the Royal Oldham Hospital, said senior medical professionals were often branded opponents of reform, when in fact many were not. He said, however, he did oppose the “cynical, superficial reforms through which politicians have exploited the NHS”. This included the two-week waiting time target from urgent GP referral to outpatient appointment for suspected cancer cases. “The fraudulent claims for these reforms are many and varied.”

Other examples of “subtle misinformation” were in the targets set for accident and emergency waiting times.

The government hailed reduced waiting times as “evidence of improved performance” but “this overlooks the sometimes dangerous means by which this goal as achieved, such as the premature transfer of acutely ill patients to almost anywhere outside A&E.”

But the Department of Health said reforms had helped achieve many improvements and were designed to engage with frontline professionals. A spokesman said: “A central theme of our reform programme has been to devolve the running of the NHS to local people. This includes allocating 80% of the budget to local managers and clinicians so that they can spend NHS funds on local priorities, cutting centrally set targets and giving the local NHS more flexibility and freedom to design and run services to suit the needs of their local areas.”