Some thoughts on the new ‘NHS Assembly’

So it looks like there’s going to be a new NHS Assembly.

It’s all part of a larger management shake-up being posited that will mean NHS England and the NHS Improvement agency working more closely together under a new NHS Executive Group. The aim is to improve planning, co-ordination and, at the end of the day, quality of care for the population.

I tend to have an allergic reaction to anything with ‘Assembly’ in its title. After all, didn’t we used to shuffle into ‘assembly’ at school? Aren’t we marshaled to our designated ‘assembly’ point during the office fire drill? And, as for the NHS Citizen’s Assembly, let’s not go there! If you are ever asked to be part of an ‘assembly’ you might just want to consider whether you are about to appear in democracy’s version of a ‘b’ film.

But if it does what it says it is going to do. If it brings together national and local leaders including patients from across the health and social care system to help co-design the next 10 years in health (note the golden ‘co-‘ prefix there) then I suppose we should not care what it is called.  By all accounts ‘NHS Assembly’ is just a working title anyway.

As you’d expect from me and this blog, I am going to underline the above and make the inevitable call for patients and carers to be part of the new ‘Assembly.’  Making this happen will not be easy. Particularly if its founders get themselves locked into delusional notions of that Assembly members need to be ‘representative.’ Form should follow function. The secret to the ‘Assembly’s’ success will be in how it works, and forms partnerships, with others – nationally and locally.

I am pleased to see that National Voices wrote a letter to the PM in April calling for patients and carers to be part of the wider development of the 10 year plan. And, as it happens, Jeremy Taylor, the chief executive of National Voices, has written some wise words on the subject of the National Assembly and the task ahead for it which appeared in last week’s HSJ (paywall). Their voice will undoubtedly be important in making this happen. We must all join this call as well.

Thinking about the closer working arrangements between the two organisations I hope they will be used as an opportunity to think about the public involvement and engagement principles, practices and model needed for the future. I have no doubt that colleagues from across the world of health and social care will be ready and willing to help with this thinking.

And finally, whatever does emerge, I hope that clinical, public health and social care research will be more central to how the new structures think and operate. We had hoped that this would be the case following the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.  But we are still some distance from seeing research systematically integrated into the planning and provision of care and treatment.  In recent months there have been some really positive signs that this is now changing. It would be a crying shame if we were to lose this momentum once again in a collective obsession with organograms, systems and processes.

Plus, if we have learnt anything from the NHS70 celebrations it’s how much pride the British population take in its track record of innovation over the years (see the ABPI survey of a few weeks ago) and how much they want it to be part of the future – or should I say their NHS of the future.

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