Comment: Why this 'consultation' gets my goat

I was reminded the other day of earlier comments I had made in this column about Mr Brown's Goat - 'Government Of All the Talents' - an acronym freely used in Whitehall.

John Knight
John Knight

The more diligent reader will recall my scepticism at people such as the business guru Sir Digby Jones and surgeon Ara Darzi accepting ministerial positions in a Labour government, without necessarily even having to be members of the party.

As many readers will know, Lord Darzi (as he now is) has been carrying out a national review of the NHS. This work, the 'Next Steps' review, was billed as an exemplar of consultation with interested stakeholders, including the voluntary sector. The first consultation exercise was held a couple of weeks ago, in what has been described to me as "two days in an aircraft hangar in east London". Lord Darzi was apparently too busy to attend in person, but sent a taped message. Many charities have a strong medical focus, but I was surprised to hear from one delegate that our sector was thin on the ground. Looking at the guest list, they reckoned that, of the 900 or so delegates, fewer than 5 per cent were from the voluntary sector. How did this fit in with NHS chief executive David Nicholson's assertion that there had been a massive consultation with the voluntary sector?

Another comment was that the consultation was clinically focused. Any domination by clinical interests raises serious questions about the broader integration of health with social care, currently the subject of Government legislation. Are key parts of the Department of Health talking to each other here? Clinical domination could work against the highly prized social approach many voluntary organisations adopt when dealing with impairment and illness. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support's recent campaign was overtly social rather than medical. How would such a campaign resonate in a clinically dominated environment? How can we contribute if we are not consulted? Answers on a postcard to Lord Darzi at the DoH.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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