Manchester £6bn NHS budget: Osborne’s power shift labelled ‘arse about face’

Greater Manchester will be the first region in the UK to be handed full control of its £6billion health and social care budget.

Chancellor George Osborne arrived at Manchester Town Hall this morning to unveil the ‘groundbreaking’ plans which will see the local authorities given power over every penny spent on local health services.

He said the historic move was a ‘major step forward’ in the city’s devolution journey and that the he hopes the plans will lead to a ‘more joined up health care’.

“Today’s agreement with the council leaders of Greater Manchester and NHS England is a major step forward in our plans to build a Northern Powerhouse,” Mr Osborne said.

“When I signed the deal with local councils here to devolve more power to Greater Manchester and to create a new elected mayor, I always hoped that a bigger say over healthcare would be part of the package.

“Things have happened even more swiftly than we had all hoped at the time, and now we have a landmark agreement to bring the local NHS and social care much more closely together.

“I am excited about all this because not only does it mean the people of Greater Manchester having more control over the decisions that affect their lives; I believe it will also lead to better, much more joined up health care.”

This trailblazing move sees NHS England, 12 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, 15 NHS providers and 10 local authorities agree a framework for health and social care – with plans for joint decision-making on integrated care to support physical, mental and social wellbeing. 

Today’s Memorandum of Understanding, approved and countersigned by the Chancellor and the Health Secretary, puts local people in the driving seat for deciding on health and care services that suit Greater Manchester.

Mr Osborne has placed his Northern Powerhouse strategy at the heart of the nation’s growth plans and this has created the platform for today’s announcement.

The plans are expected to also help in the long-term to ease pressure on hospitals – while focusing on services in community that bring health and social care closer to home.

Jim McMahon, Oldham Council Leader, has praised the groundbreaking announcement.

He said: “The first National Health Service hospital was opened right here in Greater Manchester in Trafford in 1948 – it is right that the NHS is coming home.

“This is a major step forward in our push to bring decisions about Greater Manchester and our communities to Greater Manchester.

“Health and Social Care has some of our best and highly-regarded frontline workers and they, like us, recognise there are gaps in the current system which can only be resolved through true integration.

“By devolving power away from the distant Whitehall civil servants to locally accountable councillors and health and social care professionals we believe we can create a better and more efficient way to deliver services that are arranged around people, not institutional silos.

“It is also vital that the public are kept at the forefront of this fast-moving debate. We must not rush into creating new layers of bureaucracy or rushing into yet another expensive re-organisation – that would be a big mistake.”

Integrated care in Greater Manchester will focus more on preventative work in the community – putting strategies in place to keep people well and as independent as possible.

This historic agreement does not require any re-organisation of the NHS or its principles. It also builds on the work of Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the innovative devolution settlement.

Lord Peter Smith, chair of Greater Manchester Combined Authority said the move was another ‘defining moment’.

He said: “This is another defining moment in Greater Manchester’s devolution journey. The scope and nature of this unprecedented agreement means we are proudly breaking new ground once more.

“I want to make absolutely clear that this is not, as it has been wrongly portrayed in some quarters, a town hall takeover of Greater Manchester’s NHS budget. We will be working together with our NHS colleagues in the region to make joint decisions which reflect local priorities. 

“Ultimately this will be via a new strategic health and social care partnership board. This is about decisions about Greater Manchester being taken in Greater Manchester in an integrated way, not being taken away from experts.” 

NHS England has issued a statement to diffuse concern about the impact

of the changes on standards, organisation and administration.

They said: “Any agreement would not require any NHS administrative reorganisation and makes use of existing legislative freedoms.”

These plans, which come just 68 days before a general election, have split the Labour party.

Labour’s Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese has welcomed the plan, whilst Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has warned of a ‘Swiss-cheese’ NHS, saying he would not offer this deal.

But the plans have not just got the Labour Party talking.

Pirate Party leader and Manchester Central candidate Loz Kaye said: “This move will take the NHS out of democratic control in 2016.

“It’s completely arse about face to shift powers and a huge budget in 2016, then have an election for mayor in 2017. If there has to be a vote, it needs to be moved forward.

“This deal has real dangers. Far from tackling our city’s deep health inequalities, it threatens to fracture services further and put pressure on social care budgets too if health spending comes under pressure.

“It is also unclear who is responsible, and who we can hold to account if things go wrong.

“One thing we do know now is that Labour is seriously split on the NHS. If you vote for Labour in Greater Manchester in May you do not know what you will be getting on the issue of health.”

The plans are expected to come into force as early as April 2016 and a shadow Greater Manchester Health and Wellbeing board will be appointed. 

Image courtesy of M Holland, with thanks.

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