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Editor's blog Tuesday 28 June 2011: A personal view on why NHS Alliance are not stooges

I'm a big fan of The Stooges, as in Iggy Pop's erstwhile band. Stooges of the traditional kind, less so.

That's the allegation levelled by Dr Ron Singer at NHS Alliance, carried in today's GP.  


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Regular Health Policy Insight readers may be slightly bored of hearing me declare my interest: I do ongoing bits and pieces of communications work for NHS Alliance.

My comments should therefore be read in the light that I have a consequent bias.

Dr Singer suggests that the NHS Alliance's leadership is "disunited and ill-informed ... out of step with most leading medical organisations and significant sections of its own executive in its uncritical support for GP led commissioning at any cost to the rest of the NHS".

It's a curious point. While NHS Alliance's executive leadership does include a diversity of opinions on and readings of the current Government's version of NHS reform, surely this would be healthy organisational behaviour? Avoiding the kind of dogmatic 'group-think' that would be expected from stooges?

Dr Singer's allegation that NHS Alliance leaders are "ill-informed" is sadly short of any example. It's wholly reasonable to dislike NHS Alliance's support for clinical leadership in commissioning (although as one of their founding aims as an organisation, it's also a wholly rational position for them to still hold).

However, Dr Singer does his reputation a disservice by describing people such as Michael Sobanja, Julie Wood, Shane Gordon, Niti Pal and Amit Bhargava as "ill-informed". They are not.

They may be people with whose perspectives he disagrees, but the adjective chosen is inappropriate and inaccurate, and adds nothing to his case.

Dr Singer also confuses readers with his line about the NHS Alliance being "a mouth piece for the government, an uncritical supporter of previous and present governments' policies and has influence far beyond its worth".

Mmm. Double-mmm, in fact.

That would be the NHS Alliance that had to cut out (literally) Health Minister John Hutton's foreword from a report because its contents offended the DH? Yes, that's what mouthpieces do.

More to the point, how does an uncritical (ahem) mouthpiece have influence far beyond its reach? That makes no sense.

Dr Singer serves up a bright red herring with his allegations that commercial sponsors of NHS Alliance's conference and other activities are somehow sinister. I've written various reports for NHS Alliance; some were funded from sponsorship and partnership money from private sector companies.

Not once was any briefing given that a report needed to reach certain findings. Not even a hint.

My copy was (for reasons many readers will appreciate) amended only for my typos. Other people who have worked on projects for NHS Alliance would, I am sure, describe the same thing.

I've worked with NHS Alliance on and off for quite a few years now, and I'm proud to do so. I experience them as an organisation with decent values and a very real commitment to the NHS. They promote debate, and speak the truth to power when need be - and will do so in public.

I've seen their executive meetings enjoy fierce challenge and robust debate.

And that's good. That's how grown-up organisations should work.