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‘Unintelligible’ health bill is chance to empower GPs, says new NHS Board Chief

GPs will need to use their commissioning powers to 'sort out' NHS care rather than complaining to ministers about the health service's failings, according to the new chair of the NHS Commissioning Board.

Addressing the House of Commons Health Committee, Professor Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, said GP commissioners must stop pushing accountability up the chain to Westminster and instead use their commissioning powers to tackle difficult problems with hospital care.

Professor Grant was revealed as the Government's preferred candidate to lead the NHS Commissioning Board last week. He admitted the health bill was 'unintelligible', but that it offered a chance for the NHS to have stability away from political meddling.

Professor Grant said: ‘GPs have been empowered to make these decisions. If they are dissatisfied about what is going on in a hospital then they have to deal with it, not complain to a secretary of state that no longer holds the responsibility or to the NHS Commissioning Board which has given them responsibility. And if it is not sorted, GPs have to use their commissioning powers to ensure it is.'

‘We need to get away from running the NHS on the basis of shock to shock, crisis to crisis. We cannot do that by continually passing blame and accountability up the system.'

Following Professor Grant's address, Labour MPs on the committee tried to block his appointment, saying he had a ‘lack of experience of NHS structures and processes'. But the committee narrowly endorsed his candidacy for the NHS Commissioning Board post after a casting vote from chair Stephen Dorrell.

Following his appearence in front of the committee, the Department of Health has confirmed Professor Grant is expected to take up the post later this month. Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he would bring characteristics of 'leadership, independence and strategic direction to the Board'.

Speaking to the committee yesterday, Professor Grant said the NHS was 'one of the greatest institutions this country has'. Professor Grant, whose wife is a GP, said the fresh approach to commissioning was the only way of delivering the £20bn efficiency savings target set by NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson.

'I have to say that the bill is completely unintelligible...,' he said. '...What I would see as the prize to fight for is restoring the NHS with the stability it needs away from political priorities.'

Professor Grant said he backed clinician-led commissioning, but conceded that some CCGs will not be ready to take on full commissioning responsibilities by April 2013. He said financial governance and propriety need to be at the heart of CCGs but warned that the NHS Commissioning Board needed to give CCGs the space and autonomy to do things their way.

Professor Grant said: ‘My natural instinct is to empower and devolve responsibility and let people do what they're best able to do. You and I cannot run a GP practice from Whitehall or Westminster.'

‘As a consequence of the principles of the bill about a lack of bureaucracy and autonomy we need to let CCGs do things their way. However, we need to strike a fine balance between financial accountability and energising and stimulating them to allow them to perform to the highest levels.'


Story updated 13:39