Simon Stevens: Will new NHS chief push 'US style' health?
Unions and doctors fear Stevens' US experience may signal move towards system based on health insurance
SIMON STEVENS has been named as the new chief executive of NHS England. The 47-year-old, who will replace Sir David Nicholson in April 2014, is a former health advisor to Tony Blair who has spent the past decade running the American private healthcare company, UnitedHealth. Here are six key questions about Stevens and the implications of his appointment:
Is he qualified for the job?
He's spent his whole career working in the health sector. Born in Birmingham and educated at Oxford's Balliol College and Columbia University of Public Health, he joined the NHS as a graduate trainee in 1988. After working in "a variety of NHS management roles" he became a policy advisor to the Department of Health in 1997, The Independent reports. Stevens became Tony Blair's health advisor at No 10 before moving to the US to take up his "lucrative post" at UnitedHealth.
Is he taking a pay cut to return to the NHS?
Yes, he is. There were concerns among those trying to hire Stevens that he wouldn't want to give up his "far higher" US salary and move his family back to the UK, says the Daily Telegraph. But Stevens hasn't just accepted the NHS position, he's taken it at a lower salary than that of his predecessor: £189,000 a year instead of the £211,000 paid to Sir David. He's also agreed to divest himself of his UnitedHealth shares and not have anything to do with his former employer for at least a year.
Why has he done that?
Well, the official reason given by the government is that the 10 per cent cut is "in the light of NHS spending pressures". The gesture also draws a line between Stevens and Sir David, who was "criticised over his expenses claims, and repeated use of first-class travel".
Is the government pleased with the appointment?
Absolutely. Stevens was appointed by the NHS, but the hiring was signed off by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The minister says Stevens has "an extraordinary reputation as a reformer" and he's applauded his decision to take a pay cut.
What do health unions make of the appointment?
Stevens' extensive experience in the US healthcare sector has got the unions worried. Christina McAnea, the head of health at Unison, told the BBC's Today programme that the NHS could become an "American-style service paid for through insurance contributions" under Stevens' leadership. "Is the Tory and Lib Dem government hoping to import America-type values into the NHS, a sort of insurance-type system?" she asked. "We sincerely hope it's not and there will be a massive opposition if that is what the intention is."
Do doctors share similar concerns?
Quite possibly. A senior doctor told the Independent that the medical profession may view Stevens with suspicion. "Clinicians will remember him as an architect of New Labour's marketisation of the health service," the doctor said. "He was very pro the idea of opening up provision to multiple providers. He was keen on having competition as a lever in the NHS." The doctor added: "Nicholson was seen as a centralist, very into the state. Stevens will be seen as the opposite. A lot of the profession, especially those committed to traditional NHS values will see this as a very different slant." ·