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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
NHS reforms look tarnished

By BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford

It may be hard to believe, given the most recent opinion polls, but this is the hardest time for government.

Its now set out its plans for the NHS, its legislation has been all but passed, and the Chancellor has come up with extra money to fund the reforms.

Politically the Labour Party seems to be riding high, and no one it seems, believes the Liberal Democrats, or Conservatives could do any better. So why are ministers so worried about the situation?

In one word - delivery. Having spent the last four years identifying the NHS's problems and laying out their own plans, ministers now have to show that their solutions are working.

And doing, as we all know, is harder than saying. This week the first signs of just how difficult the job of reform is, have been clearly on view.

Poor relations

Relations between the government and doctors have never been that friendly, but the simmering discontent felt by GPs has been on show for all to see.

While the number of family doctors taking part in the national day of action may have been small, the publicity generated gave the impression of a profession on the verge of strike action.

But there's also been trenchant criticism of two of the Government's key health reforms. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has been in existence for two years now.

It was supposed to evaluate new drugs and treatments, giving clear and authoritative advice to NHS Doctors about what they should and should not be prescribing to their patients.

But a wide range of groups have questioned its competence and political independence.

Whether those criticism are justified, the fact that two years in they can still be made, must be worrying for ministers.

Meanwhile, another innovation has also seems to have lost its shine.

Care Trusts were supposed to be the next big thing in the way health and social care are provided to people.

Merged Social Service Departments and Primary Care Trusts would eliminate duplication, facilitate the better use of resources, and improve the care of people.

But so far only one area has expressed an interest in creating a Care Trust - the rest of the Health and Social Services infrastructure has remained solidly unimpressed by the idea.

We are now only days away from a General Election. That will create a breathing space for Ministers.

But I predict that if Labour is re-elected, within six months, the NHS will again be high on the political agenda, and the government will be striving to persuade the voters its plan is working.

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