“I am not an NHS patient”, says new Commissioning Board Chairman Malcolm Grant

Thursday, 27th October 2011

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Published: 27 October 2011
by TOM FOOT

AS job interviews go, it was a merciless grilling.

When Professor Malcolm Grant, vying for one of the most important jobs in the health service, was asked to summon his “passion” for the NHS before a Parliamentary select committee, the Univer­sity College London provost admitted it wasn’t the easiest of tasks.

A transcript, seen by the New Journal, reveals him pleading to the committee of MPs: “Come on, what do you want me to say?” He added: “I find it difficult to demonstrate because I am not a patient of the NHS.”

The lawyer had been nominated for the role of chairman of the NHS Commissioning Board – an independent body overseeing more than £100billion of NHS funding – by Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley.

But after a lengthy interview  for the £1,300-a-day post last Tuesday, the cross-party panel of seven MPs were not so impressed.

In conclusion, they said the panel did “not endorse Professor Grant’s candidacy”, adding that he had “demonstrated a lack of experience of NHS structures and processes”; “did not demonstrate to the committee a robust understanding of the issues”; received help in preparing his application by the Department of Health; and “demonstrated an assumption that his appointment was already confirmed”.

Professor Grant, never­theless, was heralded by Mr Lansley as a man of “distinction and author­ity” whom he was “delighted” to put forward for the job.

The panel of MPs were Labour’s Rosie Cooper, Grahame Morris and Virendra Sharma, Conservatives Dr Daniel Poulter and Dr Sarah Wollaston, and Lib Dem Andrew George.

Split down the middle on whether to appoint Professor Grant, the casting vote went to panel chairman Stephen Dorrell – a Conservative MP and former member of John Major’s cabinet – who voted in his favour. Professor Grant was confirmed in the post later that day.

But minutes of the interview on October 18 reveal a series of testy exchanges and glimpses of what the future of the health service may be like.

Professor Grant’s opening gambit was to tell the panel he had been “headhunted” by the secretary of state and that “various siren voices were spread around me to try to lead me to this destination”.

The professor – who earns more than £380,000 a year as the top man at UCL – revealed he would quit the university in Bloomsbury within two years and in the meantime donate his Department of Health salary directly to the college.

Under the coalition government’s health reforms, responsibility for the health service will be devolved from Mr Lansley’s office to the independent NHS Commissioning Board, headed by Professor Grant.

The transcript shows the interviewing panel returned time and time again to the hot-potato issue of who will be accountable.

Professor Grant said: “There is a strong temptation for a secretary of state to reach into the NHS to try and push buttons, pull levers and turn knobs.

That is not the new model.”

He added later: “If you have too many people accountable, nobody is accountable.”

Professor Grant went on to tell the panel: “We will all be struggling to get away from the old Nye Bevan aphorism that if a bedpan drops in St Thomas’s Hospital it reverberates down the corridors of Whitehall.”

Mr Morris corrected him: “It is Tredegar actually.” Nye Bevan – founder of the NHS – famously announced that the sound of a dropped bedpan in Tredegar would reverberate around the Palace of Westminster.

Professor Grant said: “Thank you, but it is not the way for the future and it never has, realistically, been the way for the past.”

Ms Cooper said: “I think you are due a shock, but, ergo, what you are in essence saying to the great British public is that they will no longer have any power. Their view will not be heard.”

Repeatedly asked by the MPs about his passion for the NHS, Professor Grant said: “Come on, what do you want me to say?”

Responding to other questions, he said: “I know I am in for a shock – I am due a shock a day in a job like this” and “Can I say that this is all going to be very messy?”

Professor Grant was on a tour of the Middle East with Prime Minister David Cameron in February. In his new role, he will directly commission services, including primary medical care,  after NHS reforms are rubber-stamped by the House of Commons.

UCL students and protesters from Keep Our NHS Public donned purple comedy Malcolm Grant face masks and protested in the “quad” area of the university campus last Wednesday.

Camden Keep Our NHS Public chairwoman Candy Udwin said: “We are hounding Andrew Lansley and we’ll hound Malcolm Grant too.”

In a statement, Professor Grant said: “I am very much looking forward to taking up this challenging role as chair of the NHS Commissioning Board, and I remain firmly committed to leading UCL through challenging but exciting times.

“The roles are hugely complementary. I have worked very closely with the NHS over recent years as we have built UCL’s biomedical research activity through partnerships with key NHS trusts and a record of delivering research that translates into health benefits.

The future success of the NHS is not only vital for the health of the nation, but important too for the future growth of UCL.

I look forward to playing a role in delivering that success.”

 

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