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Bringing some breathing space to the NHS

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3358 (Published 14 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3358
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

    Getting rid of targets has become a familiar refrain among Tory politicians, but it is one that the health secretary is keen to add his voice to, Nigel Hawkes finds

    “My thinking is that we need a deep deep clean of the target regime,” says Andy Burnham, the new(ish) health secretary for England, talking of changes to the NHS. “I’m serious about that.”

    He adds: “I want to dismantle the paraphernalia of the top-down era and give more breathing space to clinicians and managers. Let’s measure what’s really important: patient satisfaction and staff satisfaction. Happy staff lead to a better patient experience.”

    However, he was also only too eager to take a swing at the Tories. “Heaven help us,” he said, if their plan to entrust patients’ records to Google or Microsoft was really Conservative health policy. He was equally derisive about the Tories’ plans to make the NHS independent, arguing that, when there is failure, ministers inevitably become engaged.

    Mr Burnham is a fresh face at Richmond Terrace but no beginner at health policy. He was minister of state at the Department of Health between 2006 and 2007, served on the Health Select Committee for two years after his election to parliament in 2001, and before that was, briefly, a parliamentary officer for the NHS Confederation. If you categorise health secretaries as gentlemen or players, he is a player.

    But he also has the virtues of youth (he is 39) and fewer miles on the political clock than other senior ministers worn down by office. Bright, personable, and with the commanding eyes that actors crave, Mr Burnham has come a long …

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