Shirley Williams writes in the Times [£] today of her strong support for Future Forum’s recommendations for NHS reform, and suggests that listening exercises may be the way forward for future policy-setting:
Like many others, I was sceptical about the listening exercise. It seemed to me a way for the Government to win time so that it could rethink its proposals for NHS reform in the light of great scepticism from medical organisations, distinguished think-tanks, health service managers and staff, and, not least, doctors.
My concerns were not justified. The Future Forum, chaired by Professor Steve Field, himself for many years a GP, has proved to be a remarkable instrument for marshalling public and professional opinion, conducting a rapid but comprehensive study across the whole of England. Its report is sensible, accessible and driven by the ideals on which the NHS was founded. On one issue after another, I find its conclusions sound.
Professor Field and his colleagues have taken the whole troubled debate on to constructive, forward-looking territory, away from political point-scoring. Maybe in such listening exercises we have discovered a better way to make policy — not only on health but on other contentious areas.
Baroness Williams praises Nick Clegg, “for wrenching the Government’s proposals around in the light of professional and public criticism,” as well as “the handful of Liberal Democrat activists who first alerted their party”.
She outlines her support for several of Future Forum’s proposals:
…that clinical consortiums should not be compelled to accept commissioning responsibilities until they are ready to do so; that they should meet in public, declare any relevant personal or financial interests; and that their decisions should be made openly… the need for integrated care across the spectrum from hospital treatment to care at home.
…while also noting her concerns:
how to involve new providers without undermining NHS services; how to improve staff training; how to prevent advice on commissioning being outsourced to expensive private managers.
Read the full piece in the Times (subscription required).