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Greater Manchester's 'Historic' NHS Signing

Jonathan Schofield on how red and blue have delivered something new

Written by . Published on February 27th 2015.


Greater Manchester's 'Historic' NHS Signing
 

"WHAT we've done is wholly consistent with Labour Party policy," says Sir Richard Leese. "The councils of Greater Manchester and the NHS have an obligation to work for the best for their citizens. If we didn't work with government then we'd be failing in that. Perhaps the (Labour) party nationally has failed to ask the hard questions about this agreement."

In terms of politics this is speed of light stuff. The idea of DevoManc was first aired in autumn, now before the daffodils have blossomed we have a signed NHS devolution. 

This response was prompted by a question I'd asked Sir Richard Leese and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I'd wondered whether coming from different political backgrounds, red and blue, had made it easier to deliver this first giant leap for DevoManc - as it's unfortunately known.

Greater Manchester is a Labour heartland, so maybe the Labour Party nationally might have felt little need to dish out the goodies to already loyal constituencies. It might not have been so open to argue with local politicians of its own party but expected them to tow the party line.

Certainly Ed Miliband's silence and Andy Burnham's apparent fury over the NHS deal for Greater Manchester is telling. Burnham, a Greater Manchester MP as well as Shadow Health Secretary, has gone so far as to say he won't take the deal forward should Labour win May's election.

This seemingly puts him at odds with local health professionals who are very happy with this local snatch-back of responsibility. The idea of a more holistic conurbation-wide solution to health care has seized their imagination.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, puts pen to paperHealth Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, puts pen to paper, watched by Ann Barnes and Sir Richard Leese 

The essence of the deal with central government is to treat a person 'as a whole for all their health, care and support needs'. For instance a person depressed through a lack of employment might be referred by a doctor to a work or training programme. Thus services and agencies will work closely with each other to boost the general well-being of Greater Manchester. This will be health care to suit local needs, not a one size fits all approach across the country.  

As Doctor Hamish Stedman, chair of Salford Clinical Commissioning Group says, "This is the start of a road map to a healthier Greater Manchester. By delivering joined-up thinking to health provision this option - in an area which has had terrible health outcomes - ought to lead to improvements in social welfare, in well-being, and an individual's economic options."  

Ann Barnes, chief executive of Stockport NHS Foundation, could hardly contain her enthusiasm. "This is the most exciting time in my 35 years with the NHS in Greater Manchester. This agreement will remove the silo mentality of the services and institutions across the conurbation. From hospitals through GPs and social services and emergency services there will be cooperation, openess.

"We can now also more clearly harness our world class research facilities to work for the benefit of the people of Greater Manchester. I can feel the fizz in this room. We have to make sure we make this work."

The blast of applause that followed Barnes' rousing words was long and generous. It felt evangelical, I'm half sure I heard a whoop or two.

Central Manchester HospitalCentral Manchester Hospital

Meanwhile, George Osborne of Cheshire constituency Tatton, was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

He knows his commitment to a 'Northern Powerhouse' appears impossible to criticise - certainly from within Greater Manchester. He knows Andy Burnham's dismissal of Greater Manchester's NHS devolution makes the Shadow Health Secretary appear out of touch with his own party in his own region. He knows it makes him appear at best flat-footed by the speed of delivery of this devolution package, at worst it makes him seem churlish and bitter.

As Osborne says: "This is an historic and exciting day for Greater Manchester as the region starts to take direct control over its future. It's a step to a true Northern Powerhouse. We absolutely need to bridge the gap between north and south which has bedevilled the economy and the country."

He dismisses the idea that he's handed Greater Manchester a poisoned chalice. After all, does anybody ever win with health provision? The NHS is in permanent crisis, right?  

"There is nothing sinister. This is government working with local leaders who have vision and energy," Osborne says. "Government and the Greater Manchester leaders, whatever our respective colours, want to deliver the best remit for this population. I think we've achieved a model other city regions can use."

This is sound Conservative policy as well, big government reduced. Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, joins in the chat. "This is bureaucracy busting. It taps into local initiatives, local pride and shows a vision of future of the NHS." He adds a caveat: "If changes are made which patients notice and see as an improvement to their care, then we will have got somewhere, if the changes are administrative and only noticed by the bureaucracy which imposed them then it will fail."

Sir Richard Leese adds forcefully: "We now have to make this work. This deal will allow us to make better use of the NHS money, it will within national safeguards and national standards, help prevent people becoming patients in the first place. Of course, I will from a Labour Party point of view argue and campaign for more money to deliver this deal more efficiently but in the meantime we will work in Greater Manchester with what we have. We have to."

What is certain is that Greater Manchester's devolution and the road to an elected mayor in 2017 is well and truly underway. In terms of politics this is speed of light stuff. The idea of DevoManc was first aired in autumn, now before the daffodils have blossomed we have a signed NHS devolution. Wow. What happened there?

The Conservative-led Coalition government and the largely Labour Party local authorities in Greater Manchester have come to an agreement. Now, surely, it's time for Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham and the national Labour Party to get on board. Greater Manchester can't afford petty politicking to get in the way of these monumental steps forward.  

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+ 

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 27th 2015.

Well done to all involved. Exciting times indeed...

Manci DoodleFebruary 27th 2015.

It is breathtaking. I am going to change my name here to Devo Manci Doodle...

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 28th 2015.

Ironically George's constituency is not quite in Manchester. Is this about to change do you think?

Cockney MancunianMarch 1st 2015.

This is what proper government is about. We rarely see such joined up and grown up thinking and in this case not just thinking but also doing. Thumbs up all round!

AnonymousMarch 2nd 2015.

This is certainly not a poisoned chalice. When Labour screw up our devo Manc NHS the government will just have to assume control again and bail out the incompetence with more money. We already see this when local NHS trusts get into a financial mess. There are no consequences for failure in the public sector however many times it is reorganised or restructured.

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