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Conference sketch: All a bit soggy in Manchester


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Friday, 8 July 2011

Conference sketch: All a bit soggy in Manchester

The weather at this year’s NHS Confederation was unsettled. It was as if the teeming Manchester rain had found its way into the venue, making everything a bit soggy.

Nigel Edwards would have used his smouldering wit to dispel the pervading damp, but he is no longer the voice of the Confed. Nigel was in the room, but only to smooth the handover to the new management. He is a hard act to follow. Impossible, perhaps.

New chief executive Mike Farrar’s opening address was tap water to the Perrier of previous years, a bland attempt to pull together the strands of unravelling NHS organisations into something that sounded like a strategy.

It tried hard to make the Confed a broad church of interests rather than appeal to its high-church members. As a result, neither the established religions nor the reforming zealots got what they came to hear.

There was a bit of railing against the government’s “unwarranted attacks on NHS managers”, concerns expressed about the dangers of centralisation and bureaucracy, a reminder that these are the worst of times and an attempt to position the Confederation as the place where dispossessed managers and the rising stars of clinical commissioning would come together to save the NHS.

The Confed chose the first day of the show to unveil research among its members, 90% of whom believe that this is the most serious financial situation they have ever faced. Whether they were thinking about the NHS or their own skins is impossible to know.

Mr Farrar talked about the NHS as “an industry”, a term carefully chosen to appeal to the modernisers and certain to irritate the traditionalists. He made it clear that the Confed would not be just another talking shop. There were plenty of great think tanks, he said, but the Confed’s new role would be as a “do tank”, a phrase that may come back to haunt him.

Mr Farrar listed five “priorities” but they were really complaints about things people are worried about or simply don’t like: sacked managers, reconfigured services that don’t end up being any cheaper, the prospect of deteriorating care – all easy buttons to push in a room full of NHS managers.

“This is not a counsel of despair,” he said, twice; but one rather felt it was.

Mr Farrar delivered a single rhetorical left hook when he described management cuts as “the most crass of all input targets” but spent the rest of the time like a lone boxer moving around the ring in search of a non-existent opponent.

Mr Farrar looked relieved to leave the stage. He didn’t stop to take questions. Nobody appeared to mind.

Lclift61 says:
Jul 08, 2011 12:34 PM
I find this blog most refreshing, though the 'blogosphere' in general is rather dull