Of course she’s been posturing under the wrong name for years. The NHS. National Health Service. With her separate clinical commissioning groups, her postcode lotteries, her different ways of doing simple tasks between one hospital and another. I always thought she should be called the ANHS. The Almost National Health service.
And now it appears she may need another name again. Or part of her does. The MHS. The Manchester Health Service. A bigger split, more formal, making the care you receive from the NHS dependent even more on where you live, rather than what you need.
There are lots of laudable reasons for the plan. I’m in no doubt that better links between social services and the NHS are long overdue. There is a common conversation on wards between staff, elderly patients and their families. As you try not to listen through thin green curtains, you overhear again and again the problems of finding somewhere for Grandma to live because she’s now too frail to go home.
Better cohesion between the two services could really help in managing long term conditions like dementia and heart disease too. No wonder George Osborne finds this ‘really exciting’. Local people having more control over the decisions that affect their lives. Or would that be local politicians George?
I’m uneasy. Us patients know that we already have to endure problems in our health care because of a lack of cohesion between different parts of the NHS. We know if we go to one hospital rather than another, we’ll get a different level of care, different systems, different food. Our doctors rely on snailmail to pass on vital information about us from one part of the NHS to another. Experienced nurses on our wards tell us they can’t give us our pills because they haven’t been through the training for that particular hospital trust. We’re promised joined up services in Manchester. Shouldn’t we be working on joining up the NHS in the UK first?
And there’s another problem. What about those of us – and we are many – who have to travel to the Big Smoke because our treatment and care is too complicated for the hospitals and doctors where we live? Will we be as welcome? As budgets inevitably tighten, will our right to expensive treatments be discussed in the light of whether we pay council tax in Manchester? Will the ‘local people’ making these decisions be happy to open their doors to costly patients across the country when their electorate are baying for them to improve local care? I can see the election slogan now. Manchester Services for Manchester people.
I have family in Wales. A few years ago they were all trumpeting their free prescriptions. Now they wonder whether it was worth it. They complain of long waits for hospital appointments and inefficient care. They try to arrange treatment across the border. They’re not so sure local power to local people as far as the NHS is concerned is working for them.
I am not against a Northern Powerhouse but this plan concerns me, not least because of the speed in which it is being introduced. In just over a year, full devolution of health and care services in Manchester will be in place, and yet all parties seem to agree the details of how this will work are still very sketchy.
And to cap it all, just a year later, Manchester people will be voting for a new mayor. A chance for some bright politician to make radical plans for that £6billion health and social care budget. Perhaps even to come up with a smart new name for the service. I like the old one. The National Health Service.