Magazine article Public Finance

Health Row 'Slows Drive for Choice'

Magazine article Public Finance

Health Row 'Slows Drive for Choice'

Article excerpt

The government has been warned that its troubled health reforms risk undermining the wider drive to introduce more choice across public services.

Plans to increase competition across services, including using more private providers and charities, were outlined in last July's Open public services white paper. However, Public Finance has been alerted to concerns about the subsequent slow pace of reforms.

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said that progress on the ground was 'patchy'.

The debate inspired by the Health and Social Care Bill's proposals to introduce more competition into the NHS had also been 'problematic to progress', he added.

The government missed the white paper's November deadline to publish a plan on how Whitehall departments would introduce more choice.

Details are now expected to be published in April.

Bubb, who was also part of the NHS Future Forum that undertook a public consultation on the health Bill, said: ? don't blame them [for slowing progress] because of what has happened in health.'

However, once the departmental plans are published, there was a need to 'regather the forces for reform'.

He said: 'I'm very worried that the culture created by all the forces around the health Bill will hamstring attempts to reform public services in a way that opens them up to more choice. The debate has been talking about privatisation when if s about more choice. You can't have choice without diversity of providers.

'Many of my chief executives get very annoyed about being characterised as private sector, when if s the third sector thaf s at the front We are delivering and it would be nice see that supported.'

A leading think-tank has also called for the government to make greater progress.

Centre-right policy group Reform published its annual scorecard on progress in February, which highlighted inconsistent performance across Whitehall. It found that in some departments, including the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, effective public service reforms were being driven through with coherent and persuasive ministerial backing, while others, including the Department of Health, had allowed themselves to become distracted.

Reform research director Dale Bassett told PF that the government 'needs the courage of its convictions' for its plans to work. …

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