Avoiding the fragmentation of Health Service is biggest challenge – George

Posted on: 1st October 2012

West Cornwall MP and member of the Commons Health Select Committee, Andrew George, has warned health chiefs that competition to deliver NHS services could damage patient experience and the NHS.

Mr George recently took part in a national debate with Dr Stephen Dunn, Director of Strategy for the NHS in the East of England and which has now been published online by Ethos (web link http://bit.ly/OIF3S0).

Mr George said: “Choice is, of course, desirable and should be encouraged. But it would be unwise to make it the foundation of healthcare planning.

“My constituents are more interested in the range and quality of services available at their local hospital than they are about any choice between a range of distant providers.

“Indeed, choice can have a detrimental effect on core local services. The poorest, the least assertive, children, the elderly, people with learning disabilities and those without their own transport could become seriously disadvantaged, as higher socio-economic groups take the opportunity to travel to hospitals outside their immediate area, leaving poorer communities and more remote areas with even more threadbare services and the risk of a cycle of decline.”

Mr George added: “NHS services can be (and, indeed, long have been) offered by a wide range of providers. The real question is this: do low-risk patients need choice within a limited range of medical services more than they want access to a full range of integrated services close to home? My answer to that question is no. If a difficult course of care is fragmented because a private company is providing some of the easier, more profitable parts of that care, it’s doubtful this will serve the interests of ‘patient choice’ – let alone protect the patients’ best interests.

“Patient choice is fine in theory, but I would argue against limiting the range and quality of integrated services simply in order to offer that luxury.”