NHS Commissioning Board emerges from the fog

Tim Knight

With the NHS currently a political ‘hot potato’, and one of the most debated topics during conference season, the latest event from the Westminster Health Forum could not have been better timed.

The NHS Commissioning Board session this week allowed attendees from across the sector to gain an insight into how commissioning will work in the new look NHS. However, it also highlighted that there is still a long way to go before the Government’s proposals for a reformed NHS are ready to be put into practice.

Throughout the course of the session, it became clear that much of the detail surrounding the Commissioning Board is still at an embryonic stage, although it is not scheduled to start work until 2012. Speakers presented in general terms, and the lack of clarity was highlighted when further details were not forthcoming when requested during the question and answer sessions.

Sectional interest groups, such as the British Dental Association or the Royal College of Psychiatrists, were represented, and used the event to argue that their interests had been historically underrepresented in the NHS and that this must be improved under the new Commissioning Board.

Several speakers expressed a hope that increased transparency in commissioning will not come at the expense of genuine innovation. They were aware of the public and political demand that as large a proportion of NHS funding be spent on patients as possible, but argued that the Commissioning Board should not be afraid to provide ‘air cover’ for expensive innovation, which will deliver benefits for patients in the long term.

This could be encouraging for independent providers who hope to ensure that their voices are heard in the debate about how the Commissioning Board will look. On the other hand, the lack of detail surrounding one of the key features of the Health and Social Care Bill could also be seen as disconcerting, given its importance and the political capital that has been invested in it by the Government.

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