Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sir Peter's Latest Proper Pickle

Sir Peter Housden, the Scottish  Government's Permanent Secretary, has a knack of attracting headlines.
In today's Sunday Herald, we reveal his candidly brutal assessment of Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms south of the border.
GP commissioning, which is at the heart of the scheme, is "a solution to no known problem," says Sir Peter, going on to describe it as "enormously risky".
Doubtless, David Cameron and his Health Secretary will be delighted.

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

SCOTLAND’S top civil servant last night sparked a cross-border row after a video emerged of him deriding the Coalition’s controversial NHS reforms and calling their core idea “enormously risky”.

Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Housden told Scottish NHS managers that Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley “could not persuade anyone” that having GPs commission patient care in England instead of health trusts was what was needed to improve the health service.
Andrew Lansley: "enormously risky"

The £180,000-a-year mandarin, who as part of the UK civil service is supposed to be politically neutral, suggested Lansley lacked a clear "story" about why the changes were needed, and had failed to identify what actions to take.
Housden referred dismissively to GP commissioning, the central plank of the beleaguered Lansley reforms, as “a solution to no known problem”.
Contrary to David Cameron’s pre-election promise not to impose top-down reorganisation, the NHS plan was “such a big set of reforms it can be seen on an inter-galactic basis,” he joked.
The remarks are hugely unhelpful to Lansley and David Cameron, who are struggling to sell the reforms to health professionals, and who face a revolt from LibDems in the Coalition.
The comments were made in November in a training seminar called “Stands Scotland where it did?” which has been put online by the Scottish NHS.
In it, Housden said the Scottish Government had developed a seven-point test for new policies called “Changing the World”, which asked if they had vision, a recognisable story, clear actions, and other necessary qualities.
Applying the test to the Coalition’s NHS reforms, he said Lansley got “a tick” for a vision of a world class health service free at delivery.

Sir Peter Housden, again
But he went on: “Thereafter Mr Lansley got into a bit of trouble. Had he got, secondly, a story to enable people to recognise where the NHS south of the border had been and where it was going?
“And thirdly, could they recognise a set of actions that would help move them forward?
“Now here we come to GP commissioning - a solution to no known problem.
“Mr Lansley could not persuade anyone, actually, [that] the things that they perceived needed to happen in the NHS would be resolved by GP commissioning. People could see some of that argument, but actually to base a system on all of that seemed to be enormously risky.”
The comments last night led to fresh criticism of Housden, who is already facing claims of “going native” by being too close to Alex Salmond.
Last year, the Scottish leaders of the Labour, LibDem and Tory parties complained to the UK Cabinet Secretary about Sir Peter’s apparent enthusiasm for independence.
In his November talk to the NHS managers, Sir Peter suggested people had voted SNP because they were ambitious for Scotland.
“I think the election result affirms a high level of ambition, a population that wants to see Scotland move forward.”
Sir Peter also said the SNP government was behind “the biggest programme of social reform in Scotland ever... certainly since the Second World War” and told the civil servants: “If you’re not enjoying this, you’re in the wrong job really”.
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Sir Peter Housden has already got into trouble for crossing the line of what is acceptable behaviour for a civil servant, and now he appears to have exceeded himself.
“Senior civil servants should not be expressing views on party political matters north or south of the border. Once again, Scotland’s most senior civil servant is exposed for being far too cosy with Alex Salmond’s separatist agenda.”
But Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “I think on this issue Peter Housden has caught the mood of people not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK.
“The Tory reforms would be a disaster for the NHS. “With doctors, nurses, surgeons, specialists, patients and even half his party against the reforms, this is another nail in the coffin for Andrew Lansley’s plan to break up the NHS.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:
“Sir Peter's participation in a seminar for NHS managers is hardly surprising.
“A key part of his role as head of the Scottish Government Civil Service is to discuss important issues in public policy. On this occasion he was illustrating the Scottish Government's approach by contrasting it to the very different nature of NHS reform elsewhere in the UK.”