NHS gets down to party politics

IT HAS been a week of difficult decisions for Britain's senior health managers. Thursday night posed a particularly tricky dilemma. The choice was between a six- course Edwardian banquet at the former home of Edward VII's mistress, Lillie Langtry, at pounds 33.49 a head (Edwardian dress optional) and a 'ski' evening with gluhwein, German beer, and 'Oompah' band: cost pounds 25.47, plus pounds 4 for use of the dry ski slope.

And if either of those seemed too frivolous, there was a formal dinner at a five star hotel. The pounds 46.41 price included a 'lively disco' afterwards.

Delegates at the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts (Nahat) annual conference in Bournemouth last week had two more days of social events to choose from. Most health organisations pay for their managers' 'formal' entertainment at such events, although they usually draw the line at stumping up for partners.

Some see this as an insensitive waste of taxpayers' money when hospitals and health authorities are having to close wards, sack staff and reduce services. Most of the 1,200 chief executives, chairmen and non-executive members of authorities at the three-day conference (cost pounds 235 plus travel, accommodation and expenses) disagree. They believe it is a vital chance to network, make contacts and swap ideas.

One of the first social engagements was on Wednesday night at the Royal Bath Hotel on Bournemouth sea-front. For pounds 38.18, about 300 delegates and partners enjoyed American food and a six- piece New Orleans jazz band. The Garden Restaurant was adorned with red, white, and blue balloons, as executives danced the evening away under the chandeliers.

Nahat's organisers said that, regrettably, none of the participants were willing to discuss the public benefit of such events. They were even less willing to be photographed. An Independent on Sunday photographer was forced to leave after one of the hotel managers grabbed his camera and threatened him with the police.

Delegates in the neighbouring cocktail lounge were more talkative. Mrs C Vaughan-Griffiths, chairwoman of Birmingham Family Health Services Authority, said: 'The networking is incredibly important. It is of as much value as the formal set pieces, perhaps more.'

Gerard Coghlan, chairman of West Birmingham Health Authority, agreed: 'It's a way to relax and a way to meet other people and have a chat with other authorities.'

Not everyone in the hotel was as happy. Dr David Pelta, a GP fundholder in Southend, and Dr Rod Smith, a GP fundholder in Reading, both guest speakers, were consoling themselves with pints of beer. Dr Pelta said: 'They've toned down the jamboree from last year. These people make a lot of fine talk about public funds, but how do they justify the jamboree that goes with it? This is a five-star hotel.'

Dr Smith was also unhappy. 'We were very disappointed not to be invited to the jazz evening because one of the main points is to meet people.'

Other speakers grumbled about the 'second-class accommodation'. 'My room's poky and has an awful view,' moaned one.

At the Edwardian banquet, Warwickshire Health Authority was picking up the bill as Geoffrey Jackson, his wife Rita, Peter Stansbie, the chief executive and his wife, Janet, enjoyed a choice of roast topside of scotch beef with cracked black pepper crust, poached salmon with saffron and spring onion sauce, and Dorset pork with cider.

Richard Humphries, secretary to the authority, said: 'The less formal occasions provide an important opportunity to establish networks and discuss policy issues away from the conference setting.'

At the beginning of the month, it was announced that Warwickshire HA would be getting pounds 1m income less for the next eight years. It will probably have to cut 250 jobs and 120 hospital beds. Then, MrJackson said: 'We are always going to be in a situation where there is not enough money to do the things we want to.'

Lynda Shelton, chairwoman of the Rotherham Priority Health Services Trust, believes that the public's money was well spent in sending eight delegates from various health organisations to the Lillie Langtry experience. 'It is a rare opportunity for eight key players in Rotherham to meet and address important health issues,' she said, but added: 'We will obviously be reviewing our policy on these events next year.'

Ian Carter, director of contracts at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear NHS Trust, whose hospital is fighting for survival after the Tomlinson report into London's health services recommended that it be merged with other hospitals, believes the conference is a bargain. 'The networking is all important - only two or three of the conference speakers are any good. The conference costs are cheap, the whole three days is a bargain really, when you consider what you can gain from it.' The trust paid his and two other delegates fees for formal social events.

Others are not so sure of the value of it all. Joe Dorado, chief executive of Southend Community Care Services NHS Trust, in Rochford, Essex, said: 'I'm a fairly social person, but if I'm spending taxpayers' money I'm very careful what I do. I appreciate the social events but in a frugal way, I'm not here to enjoy myself.'

Another delegate, who would not be named, said: 'The importance of networking is a cliche presented by professional conference-goers.'

Some delegates believe every minute of the conference is a business opportunity. Ernie Walker, chief executive of the Mayday Healthcare NHS Trust, in Croydon, south London, said: 'Being nice is very hard work. You can never let your guard down; you are always aware that you are representing your organisation. That means you have to be impeccably behaved. I've had to get up at 6am for a meeting in Southampton to be back at Bournemouth for midday. I haven't stopped. We are all workaholics here.'

(Photograph omitted)


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree is to be made into a series of films

Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree really is being made into a film

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London