Stop meddling in the NHS, ministers told

The government must stop meddling with the NHS and accept that its costly reforms have failed to improve patient care, a consultants’ leader will warn today.

Paul Miller, chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) consultants committee, will warn “bad policies and shocking incompetence” have led to major deficits and subsequent job cuts in the NHS.

He will call for the health service to be run by an independent body to “depoliticise” it, and allow doctors, nurses and other professionals to get on with their jobs without constant reorganisation.

“Care is suffering, jobs are disappearing, patients and staff are paying the price. If a patient gets worse instead of better with treatment, then it’s time to figure out whether the diagnosis or the treatment is wrong,” he will tell the annual consultants’ conference.

“Something is going very badly wrong with these health policies. It is time to call a halt. Examine what is not working and why.”

His comments come as the Department of Health is expected to announce exactly how much the NHS was in deficit last year – the government’s mid-year estimate was £620 million, but action has been taken to claw back some of this since then.

More than £80 billion went into the NHS last year – a near doubling of investment since 1997 – but there have been reports of thousands of hospital job cuts in the past few months as the most affected trusts try to balance their books.

The government insists the deficits are less than one per cent of the overall NHS budget, and claim the health service is getting better and better all the time. Health secretary Patricia Hewitt controversially declared in April that the NHS had had its “best year ever”.

But in his speech today, Dr Miller will criticise the government for wasting NHS money on costly private finance deals (PFI) and “needless” management consultants.

He will also attack the use of independent treatment centres (ISTCs), with whom the government has signed a £2.5 billion deal to provide extra capacity to help cut NHS waiting lists.

Dr Miller will say: “The deficits are clustered in a few areas and are caused by local service management and strategic planning failure, often caused by political interference with proper local service planning.

“But most particularly they are caused by bad policies and shocking incompetence inflicted on the whole service from the top, from Whitehall. And a large part of that is an excessive keenness and liking for expensive management consultants.”

He will call for any new ISTC contracts to be scrapped and the existing services integrated within the NHS, and for an end to the reorganisation of the NHS, in particular stopping bringing in external management consultants.

Yesterday, Tony Blair accepted there were difficulties in his programme of public service reform but insisted it would continue.