Expert demolishes 'myth' of falling NHS productivity

Productivity: The latest battleground in the future for the NHS
NHS productivity: The latest battleground in the future for the NHSP

By Alex Stevenson

The Conservatives are propagating a "myth" about declining NHS productivity to justify the coalition's reforms, a Department of Health adviser has claimed.

Professor Nick Black of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used an article in the Lancet medical journal to attack the "widely accepted fact" that the NHS' productivity had fallen in the past decade.

He said official figures showing a 1.4% fall in hospital productivity did not give the whole picture. They did not reflect a fall in the number of adult critical care deaths or deaths following a heart attack, for example.

"To justify the reforms to the NHS that the Conservative party wanted to introduce, the claim of declining NHS productivity was necessary," Prof Black wrote.

"Declining NHS productivity in England between 2000 and 2009 is just one recent myth in healthcare policy.

"Many other myths have arisen in the past and many more will do so in the future.

"We cannot prevent myths developing but we should remain vigilant, spot them as early as possible, and attempt to minimise the harm they can do in distorting understanding and misleading policy makers."

Coalition ministers have seized on the arguments of those like public accounts committee chair Margaret Hodge, who in March 2011 said that the productivity of NHS hospitals had been in "almost continuous decline".

Health minister Simon Burns said the government was investing £12.5 billion in the NHS and had already achieved £7 billion in efficiency savings, out of a total of £20 billion sought by 2015.

But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the analysis "exposes the prime minister's duplicity on the NHS", however.

"Professor Black explicitly criticises the Tories for propagating a myth that NHS productivity was declining to create a false justification for their health and social care bill," he commented.

The opposition is pushing for the coalition to publish its risk assessment of its reform proposals. Its amendment calling on the document to be released will be put before the Commons next week.


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