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Archive - Month: May 2011

May 25, 2011

Private Eye 1289 Medicine Balls May 25, 2011
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 12:26 pm

Britnell’s Got Talent

At Prime Minister’s Questions on May 15th, David Cameron claimed had not heard of one of his health advisers, Mark Britnell, until he’d Googled him on Sunday. His interest was provoked by The Observer’s report of a speech that Britnell, Global Head of Healthcare at KPMG, gave to a group of private health companies in New York last October. According to a brochure summarising the conference, Britnell said: “GPs will have to aggregate purchasing power and there will be a big opportunity for those companies that can facilitate this process … In future, the NHS will be a state insurance provider, not a state deliverer…The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.” Britnell responded by saying that the quotes ‘did not reflect the discussion that took place.’ But in the same month, he launched a KPMG sponsored GP Commissioning Academy at the National Association of Primary Care conference attended by health secretary Andrew Lansley and health secretary in waiting Stephen Dorrell.

Cameron’s desire to distance himself from a member of his kitchen cabinet of NHS experts, assembled by his health adviser Paul Bate, is understandable. But to claim he’s never heard of Britnell stretches credulity. Britnell worked for the NHS for twenty years before he jumped ship to KPMG. He is ambitious and forceful, and has advised politicians from all major parties on NHS reform. So, as head of South Central Strategic Health Authority – which oversaw the new Tory leader’s constituency – it seems likely he would have collared Cameron when they both attended an Oxfordshire PCT meeting on February 19, 2007.

More worrying, given Cameron’s desire to protect and love the NHS, is his professed ignorance of a key architect of both Blair’s and his own health reforms. In Wales and Scotland, there was – and remains – no appetite for an NHS market. They just concentrate on providing the best service they can through cooperation. But Britnell was – and remains – a huge fan of commissioning. In 2007, he became Director General of Commissioning at the Department of Health and was voted third most powerful person in the NHS, ahead of health secretary Alan Johnson (Eye… December 2007). Britnell coined the phrase ‘world class commissioning’ and cemented the concept in NHS policy to the extent that the Tories are forming a National Commissioning Board and ‘liberating’ hundreds of GP consortia to ‘do commissioning’, rather than treat patients.

Britnell also came up with FESC (Eye Dec 2007), ‘a Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners, which is part of the ‘buy’ option, providing PCTs with easy access to a bank of specialist expertise in areas such as data analysis, contract management and public engagement’. As the Eye observed, ‘FESC is just an excuse for clueless PCTs to buy the ‘expertise’ of huge for profit health insurance corporations. In America, these organisations keep costs down by offering doctors perverse incentives to deny patients the care they need (600,000 doctors have been sued for this) and there are widespread legal claims for misapplying fee schedules, errors in claims processing and delayed payments.’

In October 2009, Britnell jumped ship to KPMG, one of the companies that took PCT money under FESC and – presumably unknown to Cameron – secured a contract to do so for NHS London in January 2011. A revamp of the costly FESC is pretty much what Britnell is suggesting now, hardly surprising to Cameron’s health adviser Bate, a former Blair adviser who Britnell met on appointment, or his head of Policy Development Paul Kirby, formerly a close associate of Britnell at KPMG. Cameron may limply claim to have never heard of Britnell, but Britnell’s – and KPMG’s – agenda is alive and kicking in the Health and Social Care Bill.


PS In 2006 Britnell was a director of the health research company Dr Foster when the Department of Health struck what the public accounts committee called a ‘backroom deal’ with it, costing the taxpayer £4million too much. In 2008, shortly before leaving the health department for KPMG, he awarded a contract to advise healthcare trusts on commissioning to a joint venture between…. Dr Foster and KPMG!

May 14, 2011

Histopathology Inquiry update
Filed under: Bristol Pathology Inquiry — Dr. Phil @ 1:25 pm

Click on FOI Balls on the left for Freedom of Information latest

NBT balls
Filed under: FOI Balls — Dr. Phil @ 1:14 pm

FOI Request 10th April 2011 to North Bristol NHS Trust:

Please provide me with a copy of the “agreed escalation protocol for clinicians to raise their concerns which will ensure rigorous and swift investigation” that is referred to by Mrs Brunt (NBT Chief Executive) in her statement issued on 8th December 2011, regarding the Histopathology Inquiry”

NBT has attempted to charge fees for responding to this request on the grounds that that this and other requests related to service specifications for pathology services fall “on a handful of staff, particularly senior
clinicians, and this is having a detrimental effect on clinical care.”

What can we infer from this?

1. That the escalation protocol Mrs Brunt referred to on 8th December 2010 in her press release doesn’t actually exist because the burden of writing it is currently falling “on a handful of staff?

2. That the payment of a fee for a copy of a document that must already exist because Mrs Brunt said it had been “agreed”, will somehow alleviate a detrimental effect on clinical care rather than line NBT’s pockets for no justifiable reason?

3. That NBT thinks that a member of the public, requesting a copy of a document whose purpose is to provide assurance that it has proper clinical governance in place following the Histopathology Inquiry, and that its Chief Executive said in December 2010 has been agreed, is somehow detrimental to clinical care?

Or is it just avoidance by the Trust of being held to account to produce documents publicly to demonstrate genuine commitment to patient safety and be held to account by the public to do what is says it will do.

Perhaps the Trust is worried that the public might want to see evidence that the latest UH Bristol misdiagnosis, which occurred a matter of days after the publication of the Histopathology Inquiry Report and was spotted by NBT in January 2011, but apparently not until after a patient had had surgery for a cancer they did not have, had been properly handled according to NBT’s escalation process.

The misdiagnosis was discussed at the meeting of Bristol Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission in March 2011, whose minutes state that “There had been a serious incident which was being investigated; the family were being kept informed”

Plus ça change? How can we tell when the NHS Trusts in Bristol continue to be so secretive?

May 13, 2011

“Exhaustive Inquiry”
Filed under: FOI Balls — Dr. Phil @ 11:21 pm

University Hospitals Bristol (UHB) NHS Trust draft Quality Account 2010/11:


“The exhaustive Inquiry found no evidence to suggest that the histopathology department at University Hospitals Bristol provides anything other than a safe service.”


Extract from FOI request to UHB:

Q. Please describe the process used by the Source BioScience reviewers to reach their opinions. Did they have access at any time to the UBHT and NBT reports and the reports of any external reviewers who had been requested for opinion? If so, at what points in the process did they refer to these opinions before writing their final reports?

A. Copies of relevant UHBT and NBT reports were sent to Source BioScience together with the slides. We do not know the process used by Source BioScience reviewers.

Q. Please provide the names, specialist interests and qualifications of the 12 RCPath. reviewers who reviewed the 26 cases, correlating the name of the pathologist to the reviewer ID numbers shown in Annexe 4(i).

A. We do not have this information.

Q. Please describe the process used by the RCPath. reviewers to reach their opinions. Did they have access at any time to the UBHT and NBT reports and the reports of any external reviewers who had been requested for opinion, including the reports of the Source BioScience reviewers? If so, at what points in the process did they refer to these opinions before writing their final reports?

A. Copies of relevant UHBT and NBT reports were sent to the RCPath with the slides. Copies of the Source BioScience reports were not sent. We do not know the process used by RCPath reviewers.

Q. Please describe the details of any external quality assurance procedures that were implemented to provide evidence that all the relevant slides and reports, both internal to NBT and UHBT, and external, were sent
for review by Source BioScience and RCPath.

A. This was not externally assessed.

The Report of the “exhaustive” Inquiry contains a case where the opinion of six histopathologists, including two national experts, was that a patient had squamous carcinoma of the vulva.

Panel – “College reviewers’ opinions support the original benign diagnosis by the histopathologist at UHBT” (UHBT diagnosed keratoacanthoma, a condition that is associated with sun exposure!)

President of the College “Both (reviewers) consider the possibility that this could be a squamous cell carcinoma.”

“Both believe that a diagnosis of keratoacanthoma is unlikely to be correct.”

Six opinions that already existed, that confirmed a malignant diagnosis, including those of two national experts, were disregarded by the President of the Royal College and the Panel.

May 12, 2011

Medicine Balls, Private Eye Issue 1288
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 2:07 pm

Dismembering the NHS

Heath secretary Andrew Lansley’s muted apology to nurses – I’m sorry you seem incapable of understanding my reforms – may not be enough to save his career as the Lib Dems demand his head on a pole. But what’s spooking NHS staff far more than Lansley’s apparent inability to get his message across is the breathtaking insensitivity of Monitor’s new chair, ex-McKinsey man David Bennett. In March, Bennett gave an extraordinary interview to The Times, likening the NHS to a utility company. Now he’s trampled over the toes of NHS chief executive David Nicholson by suggesting that the NHS is heading for financial meltdown and many Trusts will have to make far bigger savings than the 4% predicted.

The notion that the NHS is going to be fed to the market and asset-stripped is something Lansley has been very keen to deny but Bennett’s comments are all the more potent because – if the Health and Social Care Bill goes through – Monitor is set to assume enormous power as the economic regulator for both health and adult social care. It will license providers of NHS services in England, regulating prices and promoting competition. So it’s absolutely vital that the Board is led by someone with a deep understanding of the complexities of health and social care, who appreciates how services are closely interwoven and dependent on careful planning and collaboration for survival and patient safety. So possibly not David Bennett.

If your electricity company goes under, you get another one. If you local hospital closes, you don’t. Healthcare has lots of demand but not enough money to pay for the supply. You can’t provide healthcare for all, free at the point of delivery, through competition because some patients – often the ones who put in the least money – are far more expensive and complicated than others. The NHS pools everyone’s risk and money, and the rich pay for the poor. This provides a decent, often excellent but occasionally dreadful service. It needs politicians to butt out, as Lansley is suggesting, but it also needs long-term collaboration, transparency and stability. Appalling failures tend to happen in the NHS with the combination of lack of money and massive structural reform. The Government has unwittingly created the perfect storm for another Bristol or Mid Staffs. Bennett’s promise of dismemberment is very close to the bone.

Bennett was chief policy adviser to Blair who, like Lansley, wanted the NHS to compete on quality not on price. Alas, Blair got sidetracked by opening up the NHS market and offering private companies cheap deals to cherry pick NHS patients, never mind the quality. The word ‘quality’ has featured hundreds of times in every White Paper and Health Bill for fifteen years but the only specialty where we have reliable data that provides comparative benchmarks on quality is adult heart surgery. Labour poured £105 billion into the NHS and yet much of it was wasted because commissioners had no proof of the quality of the care they were buying.

Handing commissioning over to GP consortia isn’t a quick fix to this conundrum. GPs might hear which services are going under by rumour and innuendo, or might favour other services based on personal experience or friendship. But without hard comparative data, you simply can’t commission or compete on quality. Ironically, the one area where we have the least information on quality and value for money is primary care. We think GPs are jolly good people doing a brilliant job in difficult circumstances but we don’t know how much of the care they provide is wasteful or unacceptably poor. So what qualifies GPs to be in charge of commissioning more than anyone else?

The health reforms at least have an outcomes framework, with NICE desperately trying to come up with 150 quality standards to guide commissioning. Once you set the standards, you have to audit services to make sure they’re achieving them and then identify the significant outliers who are killing patients. It takes time, money and good statisticians. So it’ll be several years before anyone can even begin to commission services rationally. By which time – if David Bennett is right – many NHS hospitals will have failed to reach their new 7-10% savings targets and will be on special measures pending takeover by private companies. Lansley’s problem is not that the nurses didn’t understand his reforms but – thanks to Bennett’s alarming candour – they understood them only too well. MD

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