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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Doctors sceptical over Brown plan
Hospital ward -generic
Mr Brown wants ministers to have limited roles in running the NHS
Doctors have given a sceptical response to Gordon Brown's idea of devolving day-to-day control of the NHS to an independent board.

The chancellor, who would consider the move if he became PM, has asked health experts to examine the plan in detail.

The BMA said leaving strategy with politicians would not "remove the current criticisms of the direction... the government is taking the NHS".

It is not known if Mr Brown will refer to the plans at the Labour conference.

Under his plans for a devolved NHS board, ministers would be kept at arm's length, their role limited to setting the NHS budget and strategic objectives.

It is the strategy which needs to be at arm's length

The BMA has warned that the proposals do not address the current problems facing the health service.

Chairman James Johnson said: "If you hand the detail over to somebody else but leave the strategy with politicians, it will do nothing to remove the current criticisms of the direction in which the Government is taking the NHS.

"It is the strategy which needs to be at arm's length."

The Conservatives said the plans show Mr Brown is adopting Tory policies.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "It looks like Gordon Brown is bankrupt of ideas. We welcome the fact that Gordon Brown is now turning to the Conservative Party for his policy direction."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: "This appears to be a belated recognition that nine years of New Labour meddling in the NHS has caused profound damage and destabilisation.

"But even now, Gordon Brown doesn't understand what real accountability means. Would this new board be accountable to central government or to British citizens?"

Almost anything that would insulate ministers from having to stand up in the House of Commons and defend everything that goes on in the NHS is a good idea
Prof Julian Le Grand
Former adviser to Tony Blair

Meanwhile, Professor Julian Le Grand - a former health adviser to Tony Blair and now the Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics - broadly welcomed the idea but said it could only work if a new regulatory mechanism was put in place.

"If we handed over money to a kind of state monopoly organisation NHS - which wasn't under parliamentary scrutiny and wasn't under the discipline of the market - then we've got something that looks perilously like one of those old-fashioned nationalised industries," he told BBC News.

"They weren't a good recipe for getting a good and effective service."

One of the chancellor's close allies, Ed Balls MP, said Mr Brown had a past record of devolving policy from ministers - such as the decision to make the Bank of England responsible for interest rates.

"The track record so far has been about devolution in important areas of policy - on monetary policy, on financial services policy, on local government and regional policy too," he told the BBC.

"I think we could see more of that in public services delivery as well."

Ambitious agenda

Mr Brown is due to make a key speech to the Labour Party conference on Monday.

Chancellor Gordon Brown
I think there is an agreement that having a leadership election... could be a good thing for the Labour Party
John Hutton
Work and Pensions Secretary

It will be Tony Blair's last conference as prime minister ahead of his resignation some time over the next 12 months.

Details of Mr Brown's NHS proposals emerged as two Blairite ministers published a pamphlet setting out similar proposals for NHS reform.

Health minister Andy Burnham and pensions reform minister James Purnell say the NHS should be publicly accountable with less central control.

Mr Burnham said that while they had drawn up their proposals independently of Mr Brown, it showed the way that thinking in government was converging.

"I think what you will find, what Gordon Brown has been saying does demonstrate the coherence of thinking amongst the government," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

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