Greater Manchester Given Responsibility For Its Health Budget
Chancellor George Osborne has announced that Greater Manchester will be taking control of the £6bn health and social care budget devoted to the region. This change, scheduled to commence in April 2016, will give 10 local councils the power to distribute budgets where they choose, with a shadow Greater Manchester Health and Well Being board being created to handle the newly devolved powers. The board will be up and running in April, and will take full responsibility for the funds a year later.
The new policy will make Greater Manchester the first region to have full control over its health budget and, as such, has received some less than positive responses. Labour’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, has said: “This has to be a solution that could work everywhere or that could be offered to everywhere. If we’re going to stick to the idea of a national health service you can’t have a Swiss cheese NHS where some bits of the system are operating to different rules or have different powers and freedoms. I’m a bit worried what I’m hearing because it does point to further break-up of the idea of the National Health Service.”
This slightly dubious attitude was echoed by Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester’s Labour-controlled council, who said: “I had a long conversation with Andy Burnham today and I think he raises a number of legitimate questions. But I have to say that they are questions that we, as local authorities and the clinical commissioning groups, are asking as well.”
Burnham is not the only critic of the unexpected devolution. Assistant director of the King’s Fund think tank, Richard Humphries, has said that handing over such responsibility to local leaders could be “creating real risks of yet another reorganisation of the NHS when it’s barely recovered from the last one.”
However, the government envisions the integration of health and social care services as a ground-breaking solution to problems such as strain on hospitals and home care services in need of improvement. Mr Osborne has said: “This is what the NHS wants to see as part of its own future. And it’s also about giving people in Manchester greater control over their own affairs in that city, which is central to our vision of the ‘northern powerhouse’ – so it’s a very exciting development.”
With full details of the plan yet to be revealed, opinions are very much divided on how likely the combining of health budgets with councils’ existing social care duties is to be successful. The NHS and the council-run care system have always been kept distinctly separate, and the increasing control being given to Greater Manchester suggests impending change in the way local government operates, and a step towards national integration. This is an idea which, at the moment, many are a little uncomfortable with given the short amount of time the local politicians now have in which to plan how to allocate funds in an area which is very new to them, and which carries with it great responsibility and risks.
While many critics have been heard declaring the risks, the positive voices maintain that the change will only improve health services in Greater Manchester. Councillor Mike Connolly, Labour Leader of Bury Council, said: “Those decisions need to be made in Greater Manchester and not Westminster, and I welcome any form of devolution to the city region. We are all agreed, certainly in the Labour Party, that health and social care must be integrated because it’s about providing that primary care – and it can only be good for healthcare across Manchester.”