New NHS chief could bring in paid-for, ‘America-type’ healthcare, warns union head

New NHS chief could bring in paid-for, ‘America-type’ healthcare, warns union head

The NHS could become an American-style service paid for through insurance contributions following the appointment of a new chief executive, the head of health at the country's largest union has suggested.

Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health, made the comments after Simon Stevens - a former advisor to Tony Blair who is currently an executive for a US private healthcare firm - was announced as the next head of the organisation.

She said she was “concerned” about what the move could mean.“Is this the Tory and Lib Dem Government hoping to import America-type values into the NHS, a sort of insurance-type system?” she asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We sincerely hope it’s not and there will be a massive opposition if that is what the intention is,” she said. "I'm hoping they are bringing him in and that he will come with the values of the NHS, free at the point of need and that it's universal healthcare. “I hope that he is not being brought in surreptitiously to try and look at, if you like, what they would consider more interesting ways of developing healthcare through an insurance model.”

Professor Sir Malcolm Grant, the chairman of NHS England, which appointed Mr Stevens, said the private sector could play a greater role in the organisation but denied the new chief was being brought in specifically for this purpose.

“Our commitment in NHS England in this is about patients,” Sir Malcolm told the Today programme. “If a monopoly system provides the best service for patients, so be it. “If, however, we can find ways of improving the quality of service, the outcomes to patients, by a mixed economy - which isn't by the way purely the private sector or the public sector but also the voluntary sector - then why wouldn't we do it?

"However that is by no means the objective of bringing in Simon. The whole point of bringing in Simon is he had global experience of different models of healthcare and an ability to help us guide the NHS through the very difficult years ahead."

He added that Mr Stevens believed the NHS is “living on borrowed time” and that it needed to be “more experimental”, though was committed to universal care that is free at the point of need.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has praised Mr Stevens’ decision to take a £20,000 pay cut from his predecessor’s £211,000 salary, saying the new chief was “leading from the front on the issue of high pay”. David Cameron is also understood to have been keen for him to take the job, which starts in April.

By Theo Mertz

The Telegraph, 24th October 2013

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