The Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI) comments on the Government's White Paper Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS.
The ABHI has published its response to the Government's recent White Paper for health, as part of the wider consultation process that closed in October. Its response focuses on several key policy points that are expected to be implemented by primary legislation. Three of these issues concern national policy while one concerns the local impact of implementing these policies.
The NHS Commissioning Board
The White Paper outlines five main functions of the national NHS Commissioning Board:
1. Providing national leadership on commissioning for quality improvement
2. Promoting and extending public and patient involvement and choice
3. Ensuring the development of GP commissioning consortia
4. Commissioning certain services
5. Allocating and accounting for NHS resources.
ABHI has focused its initial response on functions 1 and 2, with further comment on the remaining functions to follow as part of its response to the separate consultation document, Commissioning for Patients.
1. Providing national leadership on commissioning for quality improvement
As a high-level statement of policy, the White Paper naturally does not specify in any detail what might be required to fulfil these functions. However, the ABHI offers some outline proposals to help specify the necessary detail for further policy development and legislation.
The status of commissioning in the NHS at local level remains varied. There is no straightforward equivalent to the role of Monitor, which has applied rigour in its oversight of Foundation Trusts (FTs). For FTs, the need for oversight of financial inputs, and for careful business planning of ensuing resource use, has been understood. This regime has resulted in the development of a cadre of providers that match the best of the commercial and/or business world, in the form of public interest companies.
There is both opportunity and need for the proposed NHS Commissioning Board to bring about a comparable change as regards commissioners in the form of GP consortia. While the White Paper provides detail on how accountability for outcomes will be developed, it is relatively silent on what needs to happen in order to promote the same kind of businesslike approach to resource use that has seen FTs become a successful model. The change in audit arrangements brought about by the abolition of the Audit Commission raises an additional risk here as regards accountability for resource use by new GP consortia.
This note suggests that some new and rigorous processes need to be first articulated and then put in place, so that the NHS Commissioning Board is able to promote GP commissioning that is every bit as robust as the corresponding provider regime, as regards resource use and business planning as well as in outcomes. The processes required to achieve this would not appear to be at variance with the proposals in the White Paper, but are not referred to in published material.
ABHI believes that development of the NHS Commissioning Board should involve a number of key features. There should be a function in the NHS Commissioning Board to address accountability for resource use by GP Commissioners. The outcomes brought about by GP consortia will be measured, though some measurements can only be approximate rather than precise and by indirect instruments. However, this function would address the choices commissioners make in terms of financial inputs and would:
• Maintain an overview of the kinds of services commissioned, in such a way as to enable the mix of services and treatments across England to be benchmarked for efficient use of resources, very much in the spirit of what the NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement has done.
• Provide leadership and hold accountability for the existing NHS duty to innovate, so as to ensure that commissioners are able to keep a clear view of new treatments as they are developed and assessed and come into use. In doing this, the Board should adopt the functions currently led by the NHS Life Sciences Innovation Delivery Board to promote adoption of beneficial technologies.
This approach would also support the 'promoting productivity through better commissioning' aspect of the Board's fifth function: Allocating and accounting for NHS resources. These functions also need to be fully complemented by robust accounting arrangements following the abolition of the Audit Commission.
2. Promoting and extending public and patient involvement and choice
The function proposed above should work closely with one that actively involves patient representatives at national level, complementing what is promoted locally with new HealthWatch and supported by the local democratic processes as they develop. While local HealthWatch will "ensure that feedback from patients and service users is reflected in commissioning plans", such local activity is unlikely to have a clear view of the emergence of new treatments or of how local commissioners are performing against national benchmarks in terms of innovation in their treatment specifications. It would therefore be desirable if a Commissioning Board patient-oriented function were linked closely with HealthWatch England in the Care Quality Commission to help "people access and make choices about services".
It is important that the HealthWatch England functions are fully reflected by suitably sensitive machinery in the NHS Commissioning Board. To some extent this would build on the patient involvement function that NICE has had. It is arguable, however, that that activity has not connected effectively with local processes. NICE's outputs in future should feed strongly into the set of activities that is proposed here. This in turn should ensure that awareness of new treatments and of the potential for patient choice is more strongly reflected by the NHS Commissioning Board than it has been by the more diffuse arrangements that have preceded it.
In turn, these activities should integrate fully with the system for managing the tariff, Payment by Results (PbR). ABHI suggests that there is scope for a national tariff office within the NHS Commissioning Board and this office should be wired directly to the functions responsible for looking at resource use, innovation and adoption. At present, management of the tariff is a finance function and many adjustments are made solely on the basis of financial drivers. However, PbR needs to become more broadly based and also to have a strong quality and innovation function to ensure that short-term budgeting and financial issues do not continue to be at odds with quality and innovation. This is also essential to make real the White Paper's aim that "Money will follow the patient through transparent, comprehensive and stable payment systems across the NHS to promote high quality care, drive efficiency, and support patient choice".
Finally, there is one further crucial function needed to interlock with the above - a system for ensuring rigorous benefits realisation across the NHS, while not cutting across the devolution that is sought in the White Paper. This contains two elements, both of which have begun to emerge recently in the NHS.
One element concerns the need for the NHS to secure benefits of new treatments more consistently, whether evaluated through NICE or emerging through other professional channels. In a system consuming resource on the NHS scale, there is a need to find a powerful way of gaining benefits rigorously to support the continuing drive for productivity and ensure that patients benefit from new treatments. This has not been a strength. To date, there has been no comprehensive or consistent way of tackling this challenge. Measuring potential benefits of new treatments - literally, the costs of doing them set against the penalties of not taking them up - links directly back to the detailed proposals outlined above.
A second element would be an adoption support function that the NHS Commissioning Board should have available in order to promote the more active rollout of new treatments and the technologies that support them. This should comprise aspects of NICE's implementation activity and the functions of the existing NHS Technology Adoption Centre. Both of these functions are likely to be compatible with some found in the existing NHS Institute. All need to be fully integrated to support the newly- devolved NHS with the technical aspects of implementation and the business cases that are required. While local control is fundamental, mechanisms are needed to address the tension between annual budgeting and treatment benefits that may not support balance sheet changes in-year. The NHS needs direction and incentive changes to ensure that beneficial new treatments - many involving technologies - reach patients sooner, as happens in other OECD countries.
All of this interacts with NHS procurement decisions. Policy needs to balance the desirable characteristics with the devolution that actually exists; policy must therefore be developed and monitored to ensure that these issues 'join up' to support the NHS as a national system. At present there is no clear and obvious home for policy or benchmarking of performance in these aspects of commercial execution under the regime proposed by the White Paper. They are worth around £20bn per annum and need clear focus.
The nature of the tariff
At present, policy and operations for the Payment by Results (PbR) tariff are driven out of the Department of Health NHS finance function. The White Paper proposes that functions should be split between the NHS Commissioning Board for tariff structure, and the reformed Monitor for pricing, in the latter's proposed new role of economic regulator. ABHI believes that the White Paper does not make a clear case for splitting management of the tariff between the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor. It would be more sensible to separate the question of tariff management from the issue of local price variations that arise from geography and/or may be necessary as part of market entry. These latter issues may interact or operate separately.
The argument for Monitor to become an economic regulator builds on the success of the FT regime since its inception under the leadership of Monitor. However, the UK government experience of economic regulators is not straightforward, and several of the clearest examples - in energy and telecoms - are in markets where the payer is almost entirely the private individual. This is clearly not the case for the NHS, where almost the entirety of funding is voted directly by Parliament.
Further, the question of separating tariff pricing from structure seems to cut across the purpose of the tariff as it has developed, which includes management of relativities - literally, different relative costs - of the grouped procedures in the tariff chapters. Local negotiation currently does and should take place around certain aspects of the tariff, particularly in support of service innovation. There needs to be strong local leadership on this from commissioners: a market requires the buyer to give buying signals.
The implication of price management by Monitor, however, suggests a form of market interference that does not happen in energy or telecom prices, except in circumstances where there are distinct examples of anti-competitive behaviour on the part of suppliers (providers). A properly operating tariff should not require this type of interference. If there is a flaw in the tariff structure, in policy or implementation, it needs to be addressed upfront, rather than patched up in hindsight. The tariff/DRG systems in many other countries generally have sufficiently robust methodology and projections to do this, and there is no reason this cannot be achieved in the NHS in England. Additionally, after the fact ad-hoc 'regulation' will impede efficiency and send confusing signals to providers.
There is a significant cause of price variation in the NHS provider market, but it is not discussed in the White Paper. This relates to the application of the Market Forces Factor (MFF) to the tariff.
ABHI therefore suggests that the management of the tariff structure and of the pricing relativities should be dealt with as part of the functions of the NHS Commissioning Board and remain the remit of a national tariff office. The existing MFF should be managed and developed by the new Monitor.
The development of MFF along these lines would appear to address the policy objectives as set out in both the White Paper and the consultation document. It would allow Monitor to recognise the significant existing price variations that exist across the country, for example in land costs and staff pay, already factored into payment by commissioners for NHS treatments. Moreover, it would also allow Monitor to manage these variations to support entry of new providers, recognising transitional factors at local market entry together with the policy objective of encouraging local market entry to enhance patient choice.
ABHI strongly suggests that tariff structure and development should, however, be a core function of the NHS Commissioning Board.
Review of Arm's Length Bodies (ALBs)
Overall ABHI supports the recommendations in the ALB Review, with the exception of the following:
1. Human Tissue Authority (HTA)
The functions of this body are to be transferred elsewhere before the end of the current Parliament. The HTA currently regulates the collection and donation of tissue under the Cells and Tissues Directive, but there is often overlap and confusion between functions under this legislation and other legislation covering finished product. As the reorganisation process gathers pace, we believe that any matters concerning the regulation of Product defined as a Medical Device and regulated under the Advanced Therapy Medicinal Product regulations, Cells and Tissues Directive or Medical Devices Directive should come under the control of the MHRA. Licensing of establishments should not, however, reside with the MHRA, whose expertise lies in product regulation, though the Agency should have access to dossiers on establishments and on material sourcing because this will be relevant to the final product.
We also recommend that the Human Tissue Authority, when implementing the Cells and Tissues Directive, ensures transparency and recognition with relevant medicines regulations, particularly with respect to Quality and Safety of donated tissue. Such transparency is essential in order to reduce duplication in review and approval of finished product. In addition, steps should be taken to avoid duplication of actions taken by other EU Competent Authorities under this legislation.
2. National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA)
The National Patient Safety Agency is to be abolished. When this happens we believe that provision should be made for any Medical Device safety issues to become the responsibility of the MHRA rather than being transferred to the NHS Commissioning Board. It is essential that vigilance in respect of Medical Devices is focused in one organisation.
3. NHS Business Services Authority (BSA)
ABHI seeks clarity on the management arrangements currently carried out by the BSA Supply Chain Management division in respect of NHS Supply Chain. This significant NHS commercial provider addresses a large part of the NHS non-pay spend and needs careful management. Given the White Paper proposals to delegate many existing DH functions and the absence of reference to arrangements for commercial policy, this issue needs to be handled with great care.
Existing NHS commercial contracts
ABHI has concerns about the degree of change proposed in terms of management of the NHS' commercial relationships with non-NHS suppliers, amounting to an annual spend of some £20 billion. Past transitions during periods of significant organisational change have been well managed. The concern this time is about the demise of PCTs and the likely need to pass existing contracts to successor bodies that cannot readily be defined at this stage of policy development. It is not clear whether existing contracts will need to pass to GP consortia or, if that is the case, whether all or just some consortia will need to be involved. This needs to be addressed carefully. The possible need for a successor body simply to manage the contractual transitions should be considered.
The transition poses risks to all suppliers but especially to SMEs, which are a key part of UK industry. There is therefore a need to:
• ensure orderly accountability for debtor control
• monitor changes in promptness of payment and mitigate as necessary
• be aware of risks to SMEs.
Apart from PCTs, there are a variety of commercial arrangements in place with commercial hubs that are locally owned by the NHS. The same issues apply here.
ABHI is the industry association for the UK medical technology sector. Its purpose is to promote the rapid adoption of medical technologies to ensure optimum patient outcomes throughout the UK and key global markets.
ABHI will also be responding to the consultation documents published in support of the White Paper.
In a system consuming resource on the NHS scale, there is a need to find a powerful way of gaining benefits to support the continuing drive for productivity and ensure that patients benefit from new treatments. To date, there has been no comprehensive or consistent way of tackling this challenge.