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Editorial Tuesday 21 February 2012: NHS Bad Habits

There's a really good Keith Richards bootleg of him playing piano, doing (All I Have To Do Is) Dream, Apartment Number Nine, The Nearness Of You ... it's truly great.

It's got a great title, too: 'Bad Habits'.


Click here for details of 'PM Cameron - Mr Lansley's "as one" or assassin?', the new issue of subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.


The NHS has got some Bad Habits, and one of the worst is bullying to buy silence. It's also known as 'keeping the noise down in the system'.

Two examples came out today.

The first was a letter given to Andy Burnham, which he used in topical health questions.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): The Secretary of State said that he would listen to doctors and nurses but yesterday shut the door of No. 10 Downing Street in their faces.

But now things take a sinister turn. Let me quote from a letter from an NHS director received last week by a respected clinician of many years’ standing: “I understand that you are a signatory to a letter which highlights your personal concerns about the Health Bill. It is inappropriate for individuals to raise their personal concerns about the proposed Government reforms. You are therefore required to attend a meeting with the Chief Executive to explain and account for the actions you have recently taken.”

Will he confirm that it is now his policy to threaten NHS staff with disciplinary action if they speak out against his reorganisation?

Mr Lansley: No, it is not my policy. I do not know the letter to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, and if he had shown it to me beforehand I could have investigated it.

UPDATED: The Guardianbreaks the news that the doctor in question is the highly-regarded Professor John Ashton.

The second example comes via Politics.co.uk., who report that "Frances Crook, head of the Howard League for Penal Reform and a former non-executive director of a PCT, was told she would be fired if she went public with her criticism, following her writing an article outlining her concerns in the New Statesman.

The site reports Crook as saying, "It was quite threatening, I wrote pretty much what non-executive directors at meetings had been saying. I was expressing pretty widespread concerns.

"The director told me if I did this I should resign. He even told the appointments commission and I'm sure they blacklisted me. They made it very clear if I did anything else critical in public about the legislation or the way the government was moving I would have to resign.

"Other non-executive directors were worried about going public. There's a voice that’s missing. You haven't heard non-execs talking. And yet we're supposed to represent the public on PCTs".

There are likely to be more stories about Bad Habits of this kind ahead.