Brown should keep his hands off the NHS

As prime minister Tony Blair began the final stage of his long goodbye, fevered speculation turned to what changes we might see when, rather than if, Gordon Brown takes over the top job at last.

In health, early Brown sallies seemed to put him firmly on the BMA’s side when murmuring from his camp suggested backing for the radical proposal of moving control of the NHS out of political hands.

Both the BMA and, apparently, our Iron Chancellor favoured a governing body for the NHS, rather like that overseeing the Bank of England, to deal with operational matters while the politicians concentrated on setting policy.

Of course, a couple of days later, other ‘experts’  on the Chancellor’s views were denying this stance.

But other political posturing over the week has shown how necessary a move this is. Labour deputy leadership candidate Hazel Blears was quick to set out her stall for elected PCTs, some how failing to accept the prevailing notion that less party political interference is the way forward.

And then Mr Brown proved that with health and politics it is definitely a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose when he promised that health was his top priority — especially access and GP opening hours.

On Monday we saw national headlines insisting he planned to ‘tackle GPs over pay and hours’ and force them back into out-of-hours. A closer reading of statements from the Brown camp however, suggest a more measured and prudent approach which will look at renegotiating the cost of the out-of-hours opt-out — something recently suggested by the House of Commons public accounts committee.

But it is clear that there is an accepted belief that health is the easy public opinion grabber for all politicians and that the easy fix is always to shout loudly about GPs and access when in doubt.

Regardless of political colour, we should all be supporting the call for an independent body to oversee the NHS as the only way to reduce this posturing.

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