Conservative MPs don’t understand their own NHS reforms, poll shows

Politicians 'bamboozled' by health service jargon with barely half feeling able to properly scrutinise issues, poll shows

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Monday 01 October 2018 00:11 BST
Thousands march to mark the NHS' 70th birthday

Conservative MPs are up to three times less likely than their Labour couterparts to understand terminology associated with their own NHS reforms, according to a new poll.

Across all political parties only 55 per cent of MPs believe they are well informed enough to properly scrutinise issues relating to health and the NHS and many were “bamboozled” by jargon.

In total 108 MPs from across the parties were polled by YouGov which conducted the research commissioned for the MHP Communications company.

While Labour MPs report having a better understanding of key issues, they were also more likely than Conservatives to think more should be done to explain issues in plain English.

“These poll findings point to a worrying communications gap with MPs feeling bamboozled by NHS speak,” said Paul Burstow, chair of Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. “The NHS at all levels must adopt a plain English approach, so that MPs, and the public they represent, better understand the challenges and the choice.”

Just 26 per cent of the polled MPs said they understood the term accountable care organisation (ACO), despite it being widely referred to in NHS debates and a major part of the current restructuring of the health service. Among Labour MPs this rose to 38 per cent, compared to 16 per cent of Tories.

The terminology (ACO) was adopted from the US and that, coupled with an unclear legal basis for their development, led campaigners – including the late Stephen Hawking – to take the government to court over privatisation fears.​

A report by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee in June warned that constantly shifting terminology – ACOs are now integrated care systems – has allowed suspicion and misunderstanding to “fester”.

The current reforms, led by NHS England chief Simon Stevens, are seeking to “integrate care” by breaking down the institutional silos that exist between hospitals, community providers, like GPs, and those planning care in councils and NHS commissioning groups.

Eventually this could see them merge into an overarching organisation – an ACO or integrated care system – covering a region like Greater Manchester which would control its own slice of the NHS budget and use it to set local health priorities.

Just 12 per cent of the MPs polled believed the language used for the current NHS reforms was “simple and easy to understand.”

The last round of Conservatives reforms in 2012 required NHS organisations to engage with the public on changes to local and national policies.

However, three-quarters of MPs said there was a “significant” knowledge barrier to understanding how the NHS works, and this is likely to hamper any patient involvement.

Kate Pogson, head of MHP’s Health Practice, said: “The brief of an MP is vast, and too often policy proposals are hidden behind overly-complex jargonistic phrasing. Our research demonstrates how this is impacting on policymaking, with barely half feeling able to scrutinise healthcare issues effectively in parliament.

Janetta Murrie, spokesperson for the Plain English Campaign, commented: “If our MP’s don’t easily understand the healthcare terms used then it’s no surprise that the public don’t either.”

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