3 min read

Editorial Wednesday 3 October 2012: Andy Burnham's Labour Party conference speech briefed to media

Andy Burnham's speech to the Labour Party conference today (now online) has been fairly extensively briefed to the media.

We may call him The Mascara Kid, but he's obviously not into concealer.


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BBC News reports Mr Burnham as saying, "Across England 396 community services are being put out to tender worth up to a quarter of a billion pounds. This is the single biggest act of privatisation that the NHS has ever seen.

"These contracts are being signed this week so the government is now proceeding with privatisation at a pace and scale that the NHS has never seen."

The Mascara Kid doesn't mention whether the previously NHS-provided community services were any good. That is largely because we still don't measure the activity, quality and outcomes of those services.

In practical terms, nor does it say how he would go about renationalising that provision.

Burnham also told BBC News that he wants "to remove entirely ... (the) competitive structure that all hospitals and health providers will have to work within" under the new legislation. I want to restore the legal basis of the NHS to a national, planned, collaborative system and that's why I need to repeal the market madness that David Cameron has brought to the NHS".

Mmmmm. A "national, planned, co-operative service" is an interestingly partial view of why independent sector treatment centres were brought into the NHS: to disrupt incumbent providers.

I discussed yesterday the challenges of what 'repeal the Bill' rhetoric may mean, and apparently Mr Burnham plans to explain his intentions. He told BBC News, "I wouldn't create new organisations or throw the NHS upside down into another reorganisation because I will simply ask the organisation I inherit to work differently. To work collaboratively back within the structure of a planned NHS. I will repeal the bill, but no top-down reorganisation".

It's an interesting pledge, and I see why he's making it. He won't be unaware that the Francis Public Inquiry into Mid-Staffs is yet to report, which may itself force some top-down reorganisation to happen  - which of course won't be on Burnham's watch.

Plans for social care
Burnham was close to acting on social care funding in the dying-dog days of the last Labour government, but was frustrated by Andrew Lansley's withdrawal from the cross-party talks on funding and then enraged by the Tories' 'death tax' campaign.

Briefing The Guardian, The Mascara Kid told Randeep Ramesh and Juliette Jowitt about his vision: that "local councils would take the lead in purchasing care and the NHS would be expanded so that hospitals offer social and mental health care ... NHS hospitals not just to see to physical needs but "mental and social as well". Hospitals would arrange social care for the elderly and disabled as well as treating physical ailments. Burnham said this contrasted to the coalition's preference to break up hospital services.

Burnham also told the paper that local authorities will take the lead in commissioning that care, replacing the system of clinical commissioning groups where GPs are put in charge of buying treatments for patients: "it will take time, it won't happen overnight, but I believe organisations will grow into that".

It will be interesting to see what he will do in those areas where CCGs are succeeding, and I suspect he has not thought about that.

The speech will reveal results of his FOI activities over Any Qualified Provider contracts, and will reinforce The Mascara Kid's message from September 2009 that the NHS should be the "preferred provider".

Yet Burnham also briefs The Guardian that "a future Labour government would not repeat the approach taken by the previous Labour and current coalition governments of 'public sector bad, private sector good'. He said: "I believe in a public NHS". He did not rule out continuing to use some private providers, referring instead to his preference for Labour's previous policy of giving the NHS 'preferred bidder' status when bidding for contracts.

I wonder whether he has had lawyers look at the 'bidding for contracts / shaping the playing field' issue. I suspect he might encounter some issues there.