Is an NHS monopoly a good thing?

Public sector monopolies are a good thing right. They can’t affect private provision or innovation, and they are what they are. And in the case of the National Health Service in the UK, it’s a miracle. Thank goodness laws protect us from private companies taking over the NHS.

That’s the public service dialectic. Well, I have some worrying news for you.

Baxter’s law (also known as the Bell doctrine) is a law of economics that describes how a monopoly in a regulated industry can extend into, and dominate a non-regulated industry, named after law professor William Francis Baxter who was an antitrust law professor at Stanford University.

Here’s an example:

A new nurse-led social enterprise sets up on the South Coast of England to provide a wound dressing service. The local CCG likes the new service and signs a three-year contract. Costs go down as the service dresses wounds more innovatively, patients spend less time as an inpatient and pharmacy bills reduce.

At the end of the Contract, the CCG advertises a new Contract. The local NHS provider offers a lower price for the next tranche of the agreement. They undercut the local social enterprise by using funding and revenue from other areas of the local health monopoly. They win the new contract. Of course, they do this to protect their income in others areas of their business. Classic monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour.

So what happened?

Did the cost of care on the South Coast go down? Did the quality go up? Or perhaps the NHS used it’s monopoly to reach into a Third Sector and kill innovation and alternative provision and protect its income. I would content that Baxter’s law applied and the NHS used its power to stifle innovation.

My concern is that many are unaware of the anti-competitive nature of this monopoly position.    Next time you attend a meeting looking at NHS Contracts or as a member of the public at a Health and Wellbeing Board you might think to ask;

  • What steps are we/you talking to limit the monopoly of NHS provision?
  • Are we/you aware of any examples of the NHS limiting innovation or new service provision through the use of economic muscle?

The NHS and the public it serves will be better for it.

What’s the point of Health and Wellbeing Boards?

You may have been following the changes to the NHS over the last few years. Or perhaps you are just a user of services, going to your General Practitioner and then to a local hospital. Either way, you should know that your local Council has been given some wide-ranging powers to provide local health and social care services. Who cares? It’s a reasonable response to all of the changes. But there are some things should concern you.

Look at these three data points about health services in England.

  • One in two hundred babies are stillborn in England
  • Young people can wait months to receive mental health services
  • In the UK young men die younger than in just about any other European Country.

in the light of these issues I want to look at what Local Health and Wellbeing Boards are discussing in their meetings.

Using a search engine of your choice, you will quickly find the papers of you local HWB on the internet. And that’s where it pretty much turns to rat shit. The jargon and impenetrable language are there in the first paragraph. Here is the explanation of what the HWB does in Brighton.

The purpose of the Board is to provide system leadership to the health and local authority functions relating to health & wellbeing in Brighton & Hove. It promotes the health and wellbeing of the people in its area through the development of improved and integrated health and social care services.

The HWB is responsible for the co-ordinated delivery of services across adult social care, public health, and health and wellbeing of children and young peoples’ services. This includes decision making in relation to those services within Adult Services, Children’s Services, Public Health and decisions relating to the joint commissioning of children’s and adult social care and health services (s75 agreements).

Are you any the wiser? Perhaps the focus on young people caught your eye. Although you may now be worrying about the three data points I highlighted.

Reading the Agenda and the Minutes of the meetings won’t help you. They’re even more Delphic.

The most concerning element for any Public body are the meetings they held in camera. They regularly exclude the public from their discussions.

Members are often keen to show they have no conflict of interests, and it’s usually the first agenda item. But no one seems concerned that as mainly elected officials they are in conflict with their electorate for excluding them. You might also reasonably ask why there are so many doctors and so few nurses as members of your HWB. Perhaps too much interest all round.

So, if you have the time to attend an HWB meeting, go and listen to their arcane discussions, see if you understand what they are doing in your name.

The next meeting here in Brighton is in September. I will be there.

Sepsis – NHS England’s Plan A failed!

Did you notice the rise in cases in Sepsis reported by the NHS? You may know that NHS England has an action plan

Bottom line;  the NHS England plan has not worked.   So I guess we need Plan B.

Here are three things that NHS England could do now:

  • Create a Sepsis Registry – we would then know the extent of the problem. NHS England currently doesn’t have a succinct policy for Registries (perhaps they could get round to that).
  • Adopt the international standards of Sepsis treatment. Making sure the poor primary care practices are called out and addressed. (although you need a Registry to do that).
  • Refer every Sepsis death to a Coroner to investigate.

That should cut the number of entirely avoidable deaths.

 

Leadership in the NHS and why it may be looking in the wrong direction.

There should be a thought at the heart of every organisation; are we doing good or ill? In Microsoft we worried about a new found monopoly and we engaged with this through responsible leadership. We understood that our role as managers had to change, we had a responsibility to our partners and customers beyond just making money for our shareholders. And over a number of years we became a better group of leaders.

In the NHS I am not sure we have yet to fully understand the constraints and opportunities afforded to us by our health and social care monopoly in England. Monopolies nearly always display a number of traits:

  • A lack of transparency
  • Poor levels of service.
  • No or low consumer power.
  • high prices for low quality goods and services.
  • out dated goods and services with little or no innovation.

I believe that these ought to be leadership concerns of NHS England.

Despite rises in medical legal costs through greater insurance payouts and premiums, the Francis Report and the Institute of Customer Service Report 2014,that shows lower and lower levels of customer satisfaction within the NHS, the NHS has yet to focus managers in the same way as those of the commercial sector near monopolies.

It may that the NHS has never really developed, in organisational terms, beyond the passive aggressive org that Neilson so graphically describes in his Harvard Business Review article.

It’s time we all demanded more of NHS leadership, the call for privatisation is the wrong way of tackling the issues of lack of competition. NHS Leaders should address the monopoly traits. This could be achieved through greater transparency, and by commissioning services for improvements in public, patient and professional experience.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, the Kings Fund paper Reforming the NHS… is a very good place to start. But until the traits are on the agenda of every NHS leader we are not going to make progress.