Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 819)

THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2001

DR MICHAEL DIXON, DR SIMON FRADD, DR TONY STANTON, OBE, AND MR DAVID GOLDSTONE

Sandra Gidley

  800. You have all of these different partners. Who actually guarantees that if it goes pear shaped? Could that be clarified? What mechanisms are in place. You have commented on how things will evolve and I accept that argument with a certain amount of reservation. Obviously financial situations evolve over a period of time so what protection is there? Will you be jumping in to help that?
  (Mr Goldstone) Yes. Part of the reason that Partnerships for Health is shown on there as one of the shareholders is to help the local teams sort out problems as they arise when the thing is going on. The first order of pear shape which may happen is the facilities not being delivered on the ground and that is the key interest if you are a practitioner. It is getting a new surgery, getting new premises and those meeting the requirements. The first redress there is non payment. That gives a lot of protection and a lot of incentive for delivery. That is the first port of call. There is redress in terms of being able to replace that partner, being able to take away the rights they have as having been the partner appointed in the first place.

  801. Are clear mechanisms in place common to all PFIs or are they all a hotchpotch?
  (Mr Goldstone) It is different from PFIs.

  802. I am sorry, I meant all the LIFT schemes.
  (Mr Goldstone) There absolutely are and I shall say now that this is stuff we have been developing relatively recently and have been working out how this is actually going to work. It is part of the standard suite of documentation we are preparing but it is not something we have yet had a chance to disseminate fully. We have been working on it recently. Absolutely, it contains provisions to deal with the situations you describe.

  803. So the first six schemes are all different because they have not had the—
  (Mr Goldstone) No, the first six schemes are all going to be working with the approach we are developing, so they have not gone far yet to prevent that. We are going to work with them in terms of the documentation we are preparing.

  804. How will that be? How is this going to be protected? At the end of the day who carries the responsibility?
  (Mr Goldstone) For what?

  805. For making sure that it goes ahead if the private partner goes bust.
  (Mr Goldstone) If a private partner goes bust then the local health economy, like the PCTs, could sell those shares and bring in a new partner.

  806. So it is market forces.
  (Mr Goldstone) Yes, it is a market solution. If there is not, they can take it over themselves.

Chairman

  807. If they have the money to do so.
  (Mr Goldstone) Obviously I am not getting away from the fact that it would be a difficult situation if that happened. The documents do allow a resolution.
  (Dr Dixon) You need more of a contingency plan than that, do you not really?
  (Mr Goldstone) It is at the very end of a whole series of things going wrong; that is the very end game of a process which is started off almost certainly with non performance on the ground about buildings being built and to the required standards.

Sandra Gidley

  808. Does your suite of documentation include a contingency plan?
  (Mr Goldstone) It includes the provision of non-payment and then all the interim steps before you reach the end point I have described; yes, it does.
  (Dr Dixon) If things to go pear shaped and the thing goes bankrupt, the NHS must not lose out here and therefore maybe the NHS should have some demand, as will the creditors, on the bankrupt scheme and they must make sure that the ratios agreed and the formulas with the estates management mean that the local NHS does not go bankrupt as well. That is going to be quite complicated to work out. Unless we have that, it is a bit insecure, yes.

Dr Taylor

  809. May I just explore individual GPs' preferences? Do they want to be renters? Do they want to be leaseholders? Do they want to be investors in LIFT? What are your reactions? What are your messages?
  (Dr Stanton) This will not be an enormously attractive investment vehicle for GPs. Some may.

  810. As opposed to a hospital PFI.
  (Dr Stanton) It will not be an enormously popular investment vehicle and I do not think equally that GPs will necessarily wish to be leaseholders in these arrangements. We already have difficulties. There is no magic solution to this question of younger doctors coming into general practice. They express reservations about buying in to the fabric of a building, but they also say they do not want to sign up to a 25-year lease that their third party developer would like to see because they are not sure they will be there in 25 years' time and if they cannot pass their share of the lease to someone else, they could be taken to the cleaners. All of which I understand from our legal friends is correct. NHS LIFT may—may—give the opportunity either to have shorter leases because there will be a greater overall security for the developer or perhaps my own thinking at this stage is why on earth does not the PCT hold the head lease and there will then either be a sub lease or some sort of licence arrangement for the individual tenants. I suspect that might be a more attractive proposition.

Jim Dowd

  811. Or the health authority could hold the lease.
  (Dr Stanton) In this brave new world I do not think the strategic health authorities are going to be the people for that.

  812. In the interim.
  (Dr Stanton) In the interim; absolutely.
  (Dr Dixon) They will be gone by the time the first one comes off the run.

  813. I have had exactly that sort of problem in my constituency.
  (Dr Stanton) Yes, I think I know the case you are thinking of.
  (Dr Fradd) The reasons why GPs want to be involved in investing in premises is firstly some say over what happens and secondly some return for money put in. I agree with Tony, that I do not think it would be attractive on either score, because they will not have a great deal of power and as far as the profit is concerned, it could go either way. The advantage of this for general practice is really being able to hand the whole thing over to the primary care trust.

  Sandra Gidley: Conspiracy theories abound, particularly in this place and particularly in the NHS. It occurred to me, if we are having an increasing number of these LIFT projects, to ask the BMA whether this is a backdoor route to persuade more GPs to become salaried rather than the system which is currently in existence.

Chairman

  814. That is something I touched on earlier. It is a very important point because it is the whole issue of the way the system has worked in the past and the move away from GPs resourcing, the premises themselves. It is a very relevant point. Do you want to expand on that?
  (Dr Stanton) You referred to the 1940s previously and Dr Fradd confessed that he is too young to remember them, but I was struggling around as a five or six-year old during the formative years of the NHS and my understanding is that there has always been a master plan there in the appropriate civil servant's drawer for salaried GPs working in publicly provided health centres under the direction of Directors of Public Health. I do not think the plan has ever gone away. There is a movement in that direction.
  (Dr Fradd) A few colleagues do wish to have a salaried position. We are very open to providing that for them. Surprisingly, because salaried employment has been available for some time now, even under the old GMS contract salaried appointments were available and are available, but they have not been popular. We are only talking about handfuls throughout the country. That is very different from wanting to put several hundred thousand pounds of personal investment into the NHS; those are two different things. What we have now, particularly with the demographic change in the population of GPs is that people want to maintain flexibility. They are not sure what they are going to be doing in five years' time and therefore do not want to get themselves involved in complexities which are going to restrict their freedom of movement. That is very different from saying they want salaried employment.

  815. What advantages can LIFT bring to primary care in terms of IT strategies? What is your thinking in respect of advances in tele-medicine. Dr Fradd was talking about diabetic treatment being primarily now in your sector. I am sure we all recognise that certainly-tele-medicine will move things on in a number of specialties. Is this an area you would argue can be assisted by this process of funding?
  (Mr Goldstone) In terms of making the facilities available to achieve that sort of vision, and I know from talking to PCTs and PCGs a lot want to move in that sort of way but feel hamstrung by the difficulty of actually getting the physical facilities, in that case it is more about IT and technological links than bricks and mortar. Some of it may be about the appropriate bricks and mortar in which you can house that local service. In a sense that LIFT can certainly help deliver the investment in that infrastructure, where that is the required service and it wants to be delivered in that way that is absolutely what we are trying to achieve. We are not going to go around telling people this is what they have to do in terms of how they deliver that service, but where that is the way they want to move we think this is a way which will help them deliver that vision.

  816. Obviously tele-medicine schemes require development in conjunction with the acute sector.
  (Mr Goldstone) Yes.

  817. I throw this open to our other witnesses as well. Are you satisfied that in relation to planning for capital budgets, both in primary care and in the acute sector, really taking seriously where we shall be 20 years down the line—I know it is guesswork, but you can all see very clearly that there is going to be some remarkable advances in that respect—you are connected in this sense with the acute sector, from your own perspective?
  (Mr Goldstone) It is certainly a difficult issue to crack and certainly an objective, but I would not claim it was achieved. The service objectives do involve bringing services which are currently in hospitals into a more local, a more primary setting and what we are trying to do is work with that grain and try to help that happen. It involves working together with the acute hospitals about how that is delivered now. Part of the reason we have taken the view all along with LIFT that we cannot say now what we want to deliver over a long period is because we do not know what those evolutions are going to look like. For pragmatic reasons of that sort if no other we need to set up a partnership which can agree and develop and deliver things as it goes. We cannot define it all up front on day one and say we want a great big thing which looks like this now for the next long period. We are trying to work with that grain. Somebody mentioned the revenue consequences and things being affordable. A lot of these things will actually only be affordable if we can effectively be diverting resources from the way things are delivered now to more local settings. It is a task and something which is part of the process, but I should not like to say it was achieved at this point, no.
  (Dr Fradd) You put it in context when you talked about 20 years. Some of it will be sooner than that but we must not over-emphasise how far down that line we are at the moment. It is still something very much in its infancy, a great need for flexibility because we do not want to be going round knocking down buildings because they are totally unfit for adaptation to the brave new world. The reality is that there will have to be a business case. If the balance of providing a service really locally, using tele-medicine, means that you have to knock all your premises down and start again, that changes the dynamics of the business case.

  818. Do you see any form of strategy here, both in terms of IT and tele-medicine? The slight worry I have about what we have heard this morning—no disrespect to Mr Goldstone—is that we are looking at some potentially huge, important, quite remarkable developments very shortly and I am not clear we have any real steer.
  (Dr Fradd) We have real problems at the junction between the primary care sector and the secondary sector. The primary sector is actually getting very well sorted, primary care trusts are looking at purchasing across a whole combination of trusts, not just a single trust level into information technology to get economies of scale. The software systems for general practice are the best in the world in clinical terms, but unfortunately every hospital has a different system.

  819. You have illustrated exactly my point.
  (Dr Fradd) Sending the simplest messages between one and the other, just telling you what your blood glucose is, seems to be almost an impossibility. Interestingly enough, you can do stuff down the web that you cannot do between a hospital and a general practice. We should like any support we can get for saying we need a proper IT policy which allows the two sides to communicate, because we are a single Health Service.

  Chairman: You are pushing at an open door. It is certainly something we shall take on board for this inquiry. Any further questions? May I thank our witnesses for a very interesting morning; we are most grateful to you. Dr Fradd, you said you would send us some further information on Newcastle and we should be very grateful if you would. Thank you very much, gentlemen.





 
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