Running £730m UCL budget is a part-time job

Students pass a motion of no confidence as provost takes on health service role. John Morgan reports

November 3, 2011

The provost of University College London is facing criticism for taking a post at the heart of controversial changes to the NHS, with student leaders calling for him to leave UCL and a health policy expert questioning his ability to perform two jobs at once.

Malcolm Grant, a barrister and academic specialist in environmental law, has been chosen by the government as chair of the new NHS Commissioning Board.

The board will lead the new GP commissioning system and "be nationally accountable for the outcomes achieved by the NHS", the Department of Health has said.

Professor Grant will perform his NHS duties for two days a week and give the £63,000 annual salary to UCL, while remaining in his UCL post on an unreduced salary (his pay and benefits totalled £317,779 in 2009-10).

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "How can Malcolm Grant do two jobs? The first running UCL with a budget of £730 million and the second in charge of the NHS for England and some £90 billion of budget."

During an appearance before the House of Commons health select committee, Professor Grant described the Health and Social Care Bill as "unintelligible", but said it offered a chance to free the NHS from "political interference".

Questions remain over whether the secretary of state for health's current duty to provide a "comprehensive" health service will be abolished by the legislation.

Professor Pollock, author of NHS Plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care, said: "How can (Professor Grant) agree to take on a job which will, in effect, be running the NHS for England, when he has described the current legislation as 'unintelligible' to Parliament and issues of the duties of the Secretary of State have not yet been clarified, nor have the duties to provide and secure comprehensive care across England?"

Meanwhile, the UCL students' union executive has passed a motion of no confidence in Professor Grant, titled "Hands off the NHS, hands off our education: Malcolm Grant has got to go". The motion will go to a full members' meeting later this month.

The motion accuses Professor Grant of being "complicit in the carving up of the NHS as a public service"; says his NHS role is "inconsistent with a full-time commitment to our university"; and claims his stance on raised tuition fees reveals "a track record of actively undermining public services and public funding".

Earlier this year, UCL announced plans to complete the outsourcing of all security, cleaning and waste services to private firms.

Layth Hanbali, a UCL medical student who proposed the motion, argued that while Professor Grant's style of "increasing commercialisation" was wrong for UCL, it was "definitely, unquestionably, completely wrong to do that with our healthcare".

A UCL spokesman said the institution "entirely rejects the assertions" made in the motion. He said the NHS post was "a chair position, not an executive one, and these are invariably part-time roles".

He added that Professor Grant "is not benefiting financially in any way from this" and that "a range of voices", including the editor of The Lancet, "have welcomed the move as a great opportunity to integrate the contribution of universities and research into the NHS".

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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