Health: Is NHS devolution on its way to Leeds?

Professor Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, speaking at Leeds Beckett University. Picture by Vicky Matthers/ iconphotomedia.
Professor Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, speaking at Leeds Beckett University. Picture by Vicky Matthers/ iconphotomedia.
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The National Health Service is undoubtedly one of our country’s crown jewels.

Healthcare that is free at the point of access for all is something we’re fortunate to have grown up with but some say that talk of healthcare devolution could signal the end of the NHS as we know it.

News broke earlier this year of a seemingly radical move by Central Government to syphon off a £6billion health and social care budget to 10 local authorities and local NHS bodies in Greater Manchester by April 2016.

A pioneering pilot project over the Pennines has added fuel to devolution talk in the White Rose, with the idea of seizing control of transport and housing budgets from Whitehall top of the agenda.

A Greater Manchester-style health devolution deal is not yet part of the Leeds City Region’s immediate plans, but could it form part of its future?

Coun Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for health and wellbeing, thinks being able to tackle local health inequalities with a fair share of national funding is essential.

But Coun Mulherin believes there is work to be done in developing the kind of cross-council links that have seen Greater Manchester take the NHS reins. She said: “Within Leeds we are several paces ahead of where Manchester is in the city but we don’t have the tradition of working together with other neighbouring local authorities. They have worked effectively over many years punching above their weight across that sub region. We are working effectively in Leeds but it’s that wider working with partners we need to work on.”

The foundations for joined up working have, however, been put in place in Leeds and elsewhere through the Better Care Fund, which is seeing councils and NHS bodies pool smaller budgets for public health services like sexual health and alcohol treatment.

And while Coun Mulherin admitted health was “not top of the list in terms of devolution decisions” in Leeds, she added that devolving powers to local areas in other countries has proved “an effective model”.

As a concept, giving the purse strings to local areas does have its merit but might not yet be necessary in Leeds according to Professor Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents 500 NHS bodies.

“The critical thing is about how are we changing services to meet the needs of patients and you can do a lot of that without some of the big devolution questions,” he said. “It’s about working together.

“My view is you push it as far as you can in working collaboratively and once you get to the point where the national rule gets in the way of you doing the right thing and you think what can you do then? Maybe devolution is the answer.”

DEBATE FILLS LEEDS LECTURE THEATRE

Leeds Beckett University hosted a debate on whether devolution could spell the end of the National Health Service as we know it.

The ‘Devolution of Health and Social Care to UK Cities: The end of the ‘National’ Health Service?’ public lecture and panel discussion saw the likes of Professor Rob Webster, Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan and senior figures involved in the Greater Manchester deal discuss the topic at the Rose Bowl. Visit www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk for information.

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