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The Clausewitz of the NHS

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 16 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:890
  1. Lynn Eaton
  1. London

    England's secretary of state for health, John Reid, explains why his tactics have been to retreat on the consultant contract but stand his ground on foundation hospitals

    It came as a huge surprise to everyone–not least, John Reid himself–when he was appointed health secretary after Alan Milburn's unexpected resignation in June. According to theMail on Sunday, the reaction of the former Northern Ireland secretary was: “Oh fuck, it's health.”

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    He laughs, leans back in the squashy sofa in his Whitehall office, overlooking the Cenotaph war memorial, and refuses to confirm or deny the story.

    “What is true,” he says, in his soft, unhurried Glaswegian accent, “is I didn't expect to get health. I had not lobbied all my life to get it. I was surprised… but within 48 to 72 hours I had already begun to get hugely excited about it.”

    Reid has no record in health. He lists his interests as foreign affairs, defence, and economic affairs. But he does have a good track record for filling the breach when other ministers resign. He took over from Donald Dewar as secretary of state for Scotland in 1999 …

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