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Last Updated: Monday, 25 June 2007, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Doctors call for independent NHS
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Surgery
Doctors want less political interference
Doctors have urged Gordon Brown to push ahead with establishing an independent board for the NHS.

The incoming prime minister is said to be keen to give the health service more day-to-day autonomy.

The British Medical Association annual conference in Torquay backed the idea as a way to rid the NHS of "direct political control".

Doctors also said the health service's finite resources meant the NHS had to start to ration care.

The NHS has been politicised to a dangerous degree
Dr Chaand Nagpaul

The issue of an independent board has been a hot topic in recent months.

Tony Blair is strongly against the idea, but Mr Brown is thought to be more sympathetic after vociferous complaints by NHS staff that they are fed up with political interference.

Strength of feeling

A sign of the feeling was seen in one of the first motions passed at the four-day conference, which is being attended by 500 doctors.

It said the government had shown a "contemptuous disregard" for the views of doctors and its reforms were "not fit for purpose".

The Tories came out last week with their own plan for an independent board under which members would be chosen by the health secretary and accountable to ministers.

Under the BMA blueprint, the board would include clinicians and be appointed independently of government. At a local level, elected health councils would monitor services and have the power to appeal to the board.

Chand Nagpaul, a GP from north London, said: "The NHS has been politicised to a dangerous degree. An independent board would free it and be in the best interests of the NHS and patients."

He said an independent board would never have wasted 5bn on private treatment centres, which carry out operations for the NHS, or pushed through with PFI hospital projects.

But Khailash Chand, a member of the BMA's GPs committee, said an independent board would "destroy the NHS".

"What would stop the appointing of Tescos, Boots and other private providers on to the board?"

In a recent speech, Ms Hewitt has warned the NHS was too big to bring under the control of a board and it could stop progress as it would become like a "1960s nationalised industry".

A Department of Health spokeswoman added: "Further independence within the NHS should be considered only if it improves services and delivers major benefits for NHS patients."

Rationing services

The BMA also entered the debate about rationing, voting in favour of a motion which called for more honesty about the practice.

Alex Smallwood, a junior doctor from Bedford training to be a GP, said: "Rationing has become a necessary evil. We need to formalise rationing to prevent unregulated widening postcode lottery care."

He said if a contract was drawn up, which could include restrictions on access to hernia and cataract operations for example, it would help to preserve the doctor/patient relationship.

But Dr Anna Athow, a surgeon who spoke against the motion, said explicit rationing would "open the door to an insurance-based system".


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