The naming of former health minister Lord David Prior as the government’s chosen candidate to be the next chair of NHS England is essentially a political appointment to continue advancing the ideology of privatising the NHS.
The announcement, given the full support of the health secretary Matt Hancock, comes less than a year after another Tory peer, Baroness Harding, was named as chair of NHS Improvement.
This smacks of the increasing politicisation of the NHS, and doesn’t bode well either for sustainability of the NHS or general practice.
In a debate in the House of Lords, when he was health minister, Lord Prior said that the ‘cottage industry GP model is broken’ and that more care needed to be delivered through health units working together. This was code for ending the traditional general practice model.
We need an NHS that is run by an independent board, free of party political interference
Lord Prior’s attitude to the NHS is encompassed in this quote from a speech at an Institute for Public Policy Research conference earlier this year, when he said that the NHS is too big and centralised, and ‘even God would struggle’ to manage it. (So, are we now to conclude from this is he the incarnation of God sent to manage the NHS?)
He is founder of two free schools, clearly underlining his commitment to encouraging the private sector into public services. Speaking in a House of Lords debate in July 2015 on the sustainability of the NHS as a public service free at the point of need, Lord Prior said that if demand for healthcare outstrips growth in the economy for a prolonged period, the very premise of a tax funded NHS has to be questioned.
He advocates more competition in the NHS to ‘drive up standards of care’ and more entrants into the market from private-sector companies, the voluntary sector and other care providers. In reality this just means that he subscribes to fragmenting the NHS even more than it already is, making a mockery of the agenda of ‘integration’ that NHS England professes to champion.
Lord Prior is a fan of the US style health insurance system and in 2015 toured private health facilities in the US along with consultancy firm McKinsey.
When he was productivity minister under David Cameron’s government, he set up an inquiry into the possibility of funding the NHS through user fees for service.
The BMA in my view rightly warned that ‘the appointment of Lord Prior, should it go ahead, sends entirely the wrong message both to the medical profession and to patients who want an NHS working in their best interests not in the interests of party politics’.
We need an NHS that is run by an independent board, free of party political interference. The government should seriously reconsider its choice of chair for NHS England.
Dr Kailash Chand is a retired GP from Tameside