The dust has settled around the Health & Social Care Act, the tumultuous passage of which dominated the healthcare agenda earlier in the year. Despite the apparent calm, last month saw the Health & Social Care sector firmly in the spotlight with the first industrial action by doctors the country has seen in 37 years.
British Medical Association members participated in a day of industrial action to protest against the government’s controversial changes to the NHS pension scheme that will require doctors to work longer and pay more into schemes from which they will receive less when they retire.
Andrew Lansley was ‘disappointed’ by the decision to strike and felt that the public would not ‘understand or sympathise’ with the BMA.
The Health Secretary insisted that: “People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer.
He added: “Today’s newly qualified doctor who works to 65 will get the same pension as the average consultant retiring today would receive at 60 – the BMA have already accepted a pension age of 65.”
Other commentators opposed to the strike suggested that the strike would fail to reverse government policy, and put patients at risk.
Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers Organisation, said: “Industrial action could potentially mean delays to treatment. It would be particularly distressing for patients and extremely worrying for staff who are dedicated to putting patients first.”
Of huge significance to the sector was the appointment of a new Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission with David Behan taking over the post vacated by Cynthia Bower. Formerly Director General for Social Care, Local Government and Care Partnerships at the Department of Health and President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) Mr Behan takes up the post in July. We can expect that under Mr Behan’s leadership, the CQC will continue to flex its regulatory muscles and strive to recover from the scathing report by the House of Commons Cross Party Public Accounts Committee released earlier this year which prompted Ms Bower’s resignation.
The recent publication of the Commission’s report into learning disability services, which indicated that nearly half of the 145 hospitals and care homes inspected did not meet required welfare standards, demonstrates just how important the Commision’s role continues to be.
With the Olympics round the corner the Department of Health announced an initiative to get Britain active during the summer of sport. The Games4life campaign was launched by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley aiming to inspire the public to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Speaking at the launch, Mr Lansley said: “We know that playing sport can be as much fun as watching it and we want to help people make the most of opportunities to get active.
“That is why we are launching Games4Life: to inspire us all to get off our sofas and try some activity ourselves.”
This month also saw policy announcements that grabbed fewer headlines but could have an important impact on the sector. The Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, announced the creation of a new joint working group that will bring the government and employers together to help families juggle work and their caring responsibilities. The initiative aims to increase private sector support to help families reduce the financial burden of care and allow carers of disabled and elderly relatives to pursue careers.
The headlines this month have understandably been dominated by the dispute between doctors and the Department of Health. This issue is certainly a complicated one and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming months. Of more ongoing interest to the sector is the appointment of David Behan as the new Chair of the CQC. It remains to be seen what changes Mr Behan makes to the Commission but regardless of this the recent report into learning disabilities services in the UK shows just how much work needs to be done.