Tom Richmond: Wrong remedy. Why does NHS need £99k events supremo when there is a shortage of doctors?

Hospitals need more medical staff rather than NHS England bureaucrats.
Hospitals need more medical staff rather than NHS England bureaucrats.
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IF you were head of Leeds-based NHS England, what would be your priority – recruiting more nurses and doctors or hiring a glorified exhibition manager?

Unfortunately common sense and logic have been thrown out of the window after the super-quango, headed by Simon Stevens, started advertising this week for a new ‘Head of Innovation Expo and Strategic Communications’.

The annual salary for this latest non-job? Between £78,629 and £99,437 according to the no-expense-spared advert placed in The Guardian, the unofficial trade bible for public sector profligacy.

That’s nearly £100,000 of taxpayers’ money – our money – being spent on a role devised by health bureaucrats for health bureaucrats. This at a time when senior NHS managers, professional bodies and health lobbyists plead poverty on a near daily basis, leaving elderly patients fretting about whether they will be treated – and whether they will be a burden if they do feel the need to trouble their doctor or be admitted to hospital.

Someone, however – whether chief executive Simon Stevens or one of his pen-pushing minions – has a grandiose vision of recreating the Great Exhibition staged at Crystal Palace in 1851.

According to the job spec, a “dynamic leader” is required to ensure that “NHS England clearly communicates its vision for continually improving how the NHS cares for patients”. I would have thought the most effective way to do this was to spend this money on recruiting three or four newly-qualified nurses. Obviously not.

The successful applicant will “oversee, plan and deliver an annual conference ‘Innovation Expo’ and a series of other events to support the spread of best practice”. I would have thought the most obvious example of “best practice” was better care for patients. Obviously not.

And, in other “key aspects” of the role, the postholder will “oversee communication managers as they develop realistic communication strategies and plans for organisations’ priorities”. Again, I would have thought the only communication that needs improving is between hospitals and patients. Obviously not.

I won’t trouble you with the rest of the corporate mumbo-jumbo doublespeak that accompanies the advert, other than to say that there is scant mention of the most important people of all – patients and frontline medical staff.

For the record, ‘Innovation Expo’ appears to be an annual event – the 2016 conference was held recently in Manchester. I might understand the need for this role if it was generating significant sums that could be ploughed back into patient care. But it isn’t. The expectation is that it is “cost neutral”.

And what about attempting to recruit a professional conference organiser (perhaps on a part-time basis) or putting medical science, and the world-leading work undertaken in this region, at the heart of Sir Gary Verity’s Great Exhibition of the North in 2018?

No. NHS England appears to be seeking a “medical practitioner” because such applicants will be required to supply their General Medical Council number. In other words, another surgeon, doctor or nurse is being taken off a hospital ward.

And, if you’re thinking of applying for a job which appears to entail very little, don’t worry if your English is not up to scratch – “any doctor who is applying for a role with us, who does not have English as their first language, will have to have sat the IELTS (International English Language testing System) and be able to evidence a pass”.

I despair. The NHS’s finances are so lop-sided that it has been able to stump up £2bn in redundancy settlements to health chiefs since 2010, while hospitals in this region spend £200m a year on locum cover because there is such a shortage of staff. I could go on.

In last week’s column, I suggested a new rule – at least 100 new nurses and doctors have to be recruited before the contract for a single £100,000-a-year executive can be signed off.

I should have gone further – at least 200 new front line medical staff should be signed up before any new executive on a £50,000-plus annual salary can be appointed by NHS England or any other trust.

For, at the end of the day, the National Health Service is supposed to be about treating patients and there are no shortage of professional events executives capable of putting up a few trade stands.

It’s just a shame Simon Stevens does not appear to appreciate this as his organisation bleeds the NHS dry despite having a budget, according to the advert, of £100bn and responsibility for holding “organisations to account for spending this money effectively”.

What I would like to know, on your behalf, is who is holding Mr Stevens and his ilk to account... and who will highlight their rank hypocrisy when the begging bowl next comes out?

I CAN’T understand why Emily Thornberry accused Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan of “sexism” after he repeatedly asked her to name the French foreign minister. The shadow foreign secretary got away lightly, in my opinion.

Naming Jean-Marc Ayrault should have been a doddle compared to being asked to identify members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. I wonder how many Labour members even know that Ms Thornberry – the politician who showed contempt for ‘white van’ drivers during the Rochester by-election in 2014 – is also her party’s shadow Brexit secretary?

FAIR play to Theresa May for putting a stop to celebrity visits to 10 Downing Street and saying companies will only be invited to soirées if they have an apprenticeship programme.

It looks like the handiwork of Mrs May’s Scarborough-born, comprehensive-educated chief whip Gavin Williamson (and also a Bradford Uni graduate) who is responsible for keeping the PM in touch with the views of her MPs.

Let’s see whether this rule lasts when the Government runs into difficulty and there’s a chance of a photo-call with, say, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Max Whitlock or cyclist Laura Trott...

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk