MPs call for health authority abolition

CONSERVATIVE MPs have called for an under fire health body to be abolished to save money and make healthcare more accountable.

Rebecca Lefort

CONSERVATIVE MPs have called for an under fire health body to be abolished to save money and make healthcare more accountable.

The East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has been heavily criticised in recent months over its role in a decision to treat emergency heart attack victims outside Suffolk.

The body, which cost the NHS �12.3million in management costs in 2007/08 and employs more than 200 staff, was also involved in controversial plans to scrap head and neck and pancreatic cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital.

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Its chief executive, Sir Neil McKay, earned between �215,000 and �220,000 in 2007/08.

Now some MPs have questioned the need for the Cambridge-based SHA which has a remit to “provide strategic leadership” for the NHS in the region.

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They have suggested primary care trusts, including NHS Suffolk and NHS North East Essex, which commission services in their local areas, are able to effectively run healthcare.

However, the SHA, which was set up three years ago, defended its role, which involves managing a budget of �8.5 billion to be spent on the health needs of everyone in the East, saying clear leadership was needed for the NHS to work effectively.

Health campaigner Peter Mellor said he thought the reasoning behind SHAs was sound, but that the body in the East had failed to properly engage with the public.

“I see that they've got to be there,” he said.

“We have to have something between the Department of Health and the various trusts.

“As much as I would love to see them scrapped there would need to be something else in their place.

“However I think they need to get a million times better at what they do.”

His thoughts were echoed by fellow campaigner Prue Rush who said: “All the health authorities have only just been revamped, and before we start abolishing bodies we need something to replace it with.

“The SHA definitely needs to get better. But it is knee-jerk reaction to call for scrapping it. They need to tidy up what they've got and make that work.”

THE case for the East of England Strategic Health Authority

“NHS East of England is the regional headquarters of the NHS, accountable to the secretary of state for health for ensuring the best services and value-for money for patients and the taxpayer,” said a spokesman.

He listed the SHA's achievements since it was set up in July 2006 as:

Improved the region's finances from �150m debt, to �180m surplus for investment in new and better services.

Made our region the safest in the country with a 30% reduction in MRSA and a 58% reduction in clostridium difficile.

Delivered the best results for diagnostic waiting times, lowest smoking rates, and access to sexual health clinics.

Reduced waiting times for hospital treatment and in Accident & Emergency, produced the fastest ever ambulance response times, opened new GP led health centres and increased opening hours for GPs.

Produced the best leadership training in the country to develop the next group of NHS leaders.

Trained and educated thousands of new doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and other professionals.

And delivered a regional vision for our NHS that is regarded as one of the best in the country.

The spokesman added: “The NHS in the east of England - with 41 bodies, serving over 5.5million people, employing 125,000 people and spending �8.5billion a year - does not achieve this by accident.

“It needs support, direction, and management. That is what the SHA does.

“In short working with our partners the NHS in the region has delivered striking financial turnaround and excellent performance, together with a relentless focus on reducing infections and a strategic plan that prepares us for the future.”

MPs' views

TIM Yeo, MP for Suffolk South, said the SHA provided no added value to health care in the region.

“It is time for it to go. It's one of the tiers of democracy we could do without - quite frankly, I think any usefulness it had has long since evaporated,” he said.

“When we were battling over health provision in Sudbury and the Walnutree Hospital, the SHA came across as a remote body which did not appear to have any sense of what localities needed.

“Now that primary care trusts have at last come into their own, I think we could well do without the authority.”

Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP for Harwich, said there was endless duplication in managing health. “We do not need SHA as well as PCTs - Tendring PCT was ordered to and over its surplus to the SHA so it could be given to neighbouring primary trusts which were in deficit. That was hardly fair.”

Meanwhile, Suffolk West MP Richard Spring said the winding up of SHAs would be one of the priorities of a new Conservative government.

“David Cameron has pledged to abolish all SHAs in a bonfire of all the costly unaccountable bodies which have been created in recent years,” said Mr Spring.

“Now that the chronic debt situation in the East of England health service has been resolved, we can look to the future with greater confidence.

“In fairness to the current management of the SHA, it has made a much greater effort to engage with MPs than its predecessor but nothing can get away from the fact that it is a very costly body.

“If we are to make serious savings in public spending in the years to come, there will have to be a radical rethink on the delivery of services and that means ending SHAs.”

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