Editorial: Misspending on management should end

The public sector, and the NHS in particular, has been a lucrative source of income for management consultants in recent years.

In 2006, there was an outcry when it emerged that the health service, which was millions of pounds in the red, had spent hundreds of millions on management consultants in the previous year. There was much wringing of hands at the DoH and vows to cut this exorbitant waste of public funds.

Yet, as our investigation reveals today, many PCTs and SHAs are still spending huge sums of money employing management consultants. Of the 64 PCTs who responded to our Freedom of Information Act request, 14 had employed firms to write, develop or improve their annual strategic plans and more than half had employed consultants to help them commission services.

External consultants can have a role to play in the public sector - all organisations need expert advice on certain issues at some point or another. But, surely NHS managers should know how to write a strategic plan and commission services? If they do not, then public funds would be much better spent training them how to do so than employing an expensive outsider.

What's more, PCTs appear to have been hiring private firms to help them prepare for assessment by the DoH's World Class Commissioning (WCC) panels. Meeting WCC targets is a top priority for PCTs and much is at stake, but is this really the best use of public funds?

The Royal College of Nursing released figures this month showing that the NHS spent £350 million on management consultants last year - £273 million of which was not related to patient care.

This is a ludicrous state of affairs and must not be allowed to continue.

The combined management costs of England's 152 PCTs and 10 SHAs runs to £1.3 billion a year, according to Conservative statistics compiled late last year. For this sum, the NHS should be able to employ people who are experts in their field and capable of overseeing the day-to-day running of the NHS without resorting to outside help.

More opinion online
Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week.

  • "US TV ads slate the NHS Patients are not 'trapped' in the health system here. The NHS is not a prison. At least we have a choice - 45 million Americans have none. They cannot even enter the system, let alone become trapped in it."
  • "Gordon Brown's embarrassing week I have the exact same make-up routine as GB and on top of it I use the exact same products! There is something wrong with having the same make-up routine as your prime minister, non?"

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