Health will be the fourth major department Mr Johnson has headed since his promotion to the cabinet in 2004, when he was secretary of state for Work and Pensions followed by a stint at the DTI. A former postman Mr Johnson was general secretary of the Union of Communication Workers before becoming MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle in 1997.
Because of his union background and quiet, calm manner, the Labour leadership has in the past seen him as an ideal negotiator with unions and in areas where public sector workers are unhappy. The current discontent in the health service may have been a factor in this new appointment. Reaction from the health sector suggested his skills will be needed.
Acting BMA chairman Dr Sam Everington said: 'The new Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he wants change in the NHS. Doctors have the ideas to realise change, we see patients every day and we know what works and what doesn't. At our annual meeting this week doctors appealed for the government to work with them and listen to them.
‘The appointment of a new Health Secretary provides an excellent opportunity for doctors and government to work together to improve patient care. The BMA looks forward to working with Alan Johnson and we will be seeking a meeting as soon as possible.'
Health service union Unison welcome Mr Johnson as someone it could 'do business with'.
'His appointment presents staff, patients and government with a clear opportunity to make a fresh start,' said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis. 'We do hope that the new minister seizes this golden opportunity to listen much more to the real experts in the NHS: staff and patients.'
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: 'We have gone on the record publicly to praise Mr Johnson's even-handed and open-minded approach which led to a landmark deal to safeguard the final salary pensions of existing NHS nurses. We hope that Mr Johnson will show that same approach on NHS pay.
'We urge him to talk to us and work with us to re-build trust with NHS staff. One way to do this would be to give nurses and their colleagues the fair pay they deserve by honouring the recommendations of the independent pay review body and giving nurses this year's 2.5 per cent pay award in full, rather than the staged pay cut the government is currently proposing.'
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