Tuesday, 2 April 2013

We Leave No One Out: Professor Donald Berwick

Professor Donald Berwick is a Professor of Paediatrics at the Harvard Medical School, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. In July 2010, Professor Berwick was appointed by President Obama as head of Medicare and Medicaid but resigned at the height of the Obama healthcare reforms debate when it became clear that Republicans would block his appointment. Last week David Cameron appointed him to turn the NHS into the safest healthcare system in the world (in the wake of the Francis report). In his first interview as Cameron’s ‘Health Tsar’ with a newspaper, the Telegraph ran the title: “My Cure for the Sick NHS” (1).
Many of us will therefore be relieved to know that Professor Berwick is in fact a great supporter of the NHS. In the US, he has been denigrated by the Republican press for praising the NHS and wanting to move the US away from its traditional fee-for-service medicine. In a keynote lecture at the NHS Live Conference (July 2008) celebrating the 60th birthday of the NHS, the following were just a few examples of his praise (2):
1.     “The NHS is one of the most astounding human endeavours of modern times” 
2.     “The UK promises to make healthcare a human right. The US does not promise healthcare as a human right and people ask, “How can healthcare be a human right? We can’t afford it.” As a result, almost 50 million Americans, one in seven, do not have health insurance. Here (in the UK), we make it harder for ourselves, because we don’t make that excuse. We cap our healthcare budget, and we make the political and eco­nomic choices we need to make to keep affordability within reach. And, we leave no one out.” 
3.     “In the US, we can hold no one accountable for our problems. Here, in England, account­ability for the NHS is clear.” 
4.     “In the US, we fund healthcare through hundreds of insur­ance companies, a zoo of pay­ment streams. Administrative costs approach 20% of US total healthcare bill, at least three times as much as in England.” 
For a video excerpt, see here.

Professor Donald Berwick is a friend of the NHS. By appointing him, David Cameron may in fact help steer the NHS out of the choppy waters we find ourselves in. Professor Berwick, we welcome you to the UK and look forward to your support and guidance in making the NHS even safer.