Lansley’s NHS reforms have failed. Now it is time to sweep them away

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I wrote yesterday about the failure of the market in the NHS. Within hours the Guardian had reported:

NHS regulators are to take control of health services in three entire regions of England where hospitals are failing, the Guardian has learned. Essex, North Cumbria and Northern, Eastern and Western Devon are the areas affected by the move.

They explained this, saying:

Essex Hospitals there have been struggling with staff shortages, waiting time failures and financial problems that have damaged patient care.

Key NHS bodies and regulators will impose a newly-devised and euphemistically named “success regime” on the three parts of the country, and push through determined action to ensure hospitals, GP surgeries and other NHS service providers work together much more closely to tackle deep-seated problems which previous initiatives have failed to banish.

The admission is tacit, but is also very clear and is that the policy of making NHS organisations compete with each other, which was the foundation of the 2012 NHS reform forced through by the last government against enormous opposition, has failed.  What has, very obviously, been admitted is that supposed competition has not driven up standards but has, instead, created a situation where the supply of integrated health care is impossible.  The three Trusts involved will, no doubt, be described as those not embracing the spirit of change, but I do not think that anyone will believe this for a moment. They are simply the most stark indication of a system that is failing in a remarkably short period of time after its introduction, but in precisely the way that many of us predicted.

I hate to suggest another top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and yet it is very obvious that it will be necessary. The creation of a faux  market and the breaking up of many of the strategic coordination functions within the NHS (motivated by a belief that  such functions  would be consistent with monopoly, and so be antithetical to competition policy)  must be brought to an end and the supply of coordinated, integrated  and consistent NHS services by a range of disciplines working together must instead become the priority not just for reasons of patient care but also to save both frontline and back-office costs, so guaranteeing the future supply of services people in this country require.

Coming so soon after the 2012 reforms such a reorganisation would be disruptive, but there is one redeeming feature. At least those working for the NHS would realise that this reform would be driven solely by a desire to help them deliver exactly the services they wish to supply to the patients in their care with the lowest level of dogmatic and administrative interference that politicians could  impose upon them.

Jeremy Hunt has already admitted in the course of imposing these new measures upon whole regions that Andrew Lansley's reforms have failed. Now it is time to sweep them away.