Health review leader promises to 'speak truth to power'

Picture of Sir Stephen Bubb
Image caption Sir Stephen Bubb will focus on choice and competition, the most controversial element

The man assessing choice and competition in the review of the government's health bill has denied it is a PR exercise.

Earlier this month ministers announced a "listening exercise" to review their NHS reforms for England amid mounting criticism.

Critics have dismissed the two-month consultation as a PR stunt.

But Sir Stephen Bubb, who will report for the review on choice and competition, says he is not "biddable".

Over the next few weeks the NHS Future Forum will talk to clinicians, patient representatives and other groups to discuss concerns over the government's Health and Social Care Bill.

David Cameron said the review was a chance to "pause, listen, reflect and improve" on the proposals.

The overall consultation will be led by Professor Steve Field, former chairman of the Royal College of GPs.

But the review of choice and competition - the most controversial elements in the bill - will be handled by Sir Stephen, who is chief executive of voluntary organisations group ACEVO.

Labour says the exercise is an expensive PR stunt.

But, speaking exclusively to the BBC, Sir Stephen insisted that he would not shy away from criticism.

"I'm not the sort of guy who is terribly biddable. If I think there are things that need changing I'm going to say so. It will then be down to the prime minister to decide whether that's right and whether the changes are going to be made.

"I would not have got involved if it was a PR exercise. I don't do PR exercises. I come from a sector that speaks truth to power. So people can be assured when they're making comments to us we will listen to what they say."

'Consumer power'

The reforms have come under criticism from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and health think tanks including the King's Fund.

However, Sir Stephen said he thought some of the principles behind the bill had a huge amount of public support.

"Andrew Lansley's formulation of 'no decision about me without me' is something we would all sign up to. More choice, more consumer power is something people support. I think some of that has got a little messed up in some of the debates about privatisation."

He acknowledged that privatisation was an emotive issue, but he said people cared more about what was delivered than who delivered it. He promised to look at safeguards and regulation in the bill.

"I think people would probably get upset if they thought we were about to hand over a whole load of hospitals to an American healthcare company.

"I don't think that's being proposed, but there is that sort of fear, and I want to listen to the concerns of the professional groups and the unions to see whether there are areas where the proposed role for Monitor and the commissioning board could be changed."

He said he would also look carefully at concerns over possible NHS hospital closures if trusts failed to balance the books.

"That whole business of market failure and closure of hospitals is clearly something that people are very worried about and raising in the listening exercise. It's one of the things we need to look at."

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