In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced his intention to give the Care Quality Commission “statutory independence”, thus freeing it from something nebulous but referred to as “political interference”.
Anyone with an interest in the quality of patient care and patient safety (which is everyone) should be deeply alarmed by this announcement. What Jeremy Hunt said in effect was that the Secretary of State would no longer be accountable or accept responsibility for patient care and patient safety.
This is fully in the spirit the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which removed the duty of the Secretary of State for Health for provision of healthcare in England, replacing it with a duty to ‘promote’ – in other words to act as chief salesman for the NHS in England, an NHS reduced through that same Act to a brand name and a procurement agency.
The safety and care of people in England is already being sold (out) to commercial companies whose performance will be hidden behind “commercial in confidence” clauses and exemption from Freedom of Information requests; and now the oversight will be sloughed off to an “independent” and unaccountable Care Quality Commission. (which may itself at some point be privatised).
If anyone really thinks that such an “independent” body would be free from “political interference”, they should look hard at the behaviours of Ofqual over GCSE examination grades, or Ofsted about pretty much anything. That “political interference” will have room to increase, because it will be hidden; performed indirectly through the press, or through quiet, private words (off the record).
The very idea that something as important as patient safety can be separated from politics is risible.
Governance just doesn’t work unless someone, somewhere is accountable. A person, not a body or an organisational unit. Without accountability, Hunt and Cameron will continue to interfere in health and patient safety – a few millions for cancer here, an attack on GPs there; a few new targets and objectives, capping and cutting the funding for the NHS….
Full marks, though, to Jeremy Hunt for dressing up such a spectacularly bad idea as something positive. He is very good at that old razzle dazzle. Altogether, now…
“What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle ’em
And they’ll never catch wise!”
(Lyrics from Chicago, by Fred Ebb. Music by John Kander)