Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Leading backer of Labour NHS reforms to advise Tories

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley
Andrew Lansley hopes to be health secretary after the election

A prominent supporter of Tony Blair's health reforms is to advise the Conservatives, arguing the party is now "committed" to the NHS.

Professor David Kerr, a leading cancer specialist, will become shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley's principal clinical adviser - a paid role.

He said efforts to increase patient choice under Mr Blair had been affected by a "blizzard" of targets.

But Labour says Tory plans to scrap its patient guarantees will be damaging.

News of Prof Kerr's appointment comes on the eve of the Tories' spring conference in Brighton, where leader David Cameron will seek to rally party supporters ahead of the general election - which must be held by June.

'Bogged down'

The party has made health a central plank of its manifesto in England, promising to protect NHS budgets from future public spending cuts.

The Tories said Prof Kerr's endorsement showed a growing belief that their policies offered the best future for the health service.

We have got lost in the blizzard of increasingly irrelevant targets
Prof David Kerr

Currently professor of cancer medicine at the University of Oxford, he was a strong supporter of key reforms, such as maximum waiting times for treatment and foundation hospitals, undertaken by Labour.

He also wrote a number of reports for Labour on cancer treatment and NHS re-organisation.

But he has claimed that the "bold and radical" agenda pursued while Mr Blair was in No 10 had been replaced in recent years by a top-down approach leaving the NHS "bogged down by process driven targets" - many of which were "irrelevant" to better treatment.

He has called for a shift in emphasis from general targets to individual results, focusing on helping patients live longer and in better health.

He has argued that the NHS should publish information about the quality of care and patient experience offered by hospitals and medical practices, including details of mortality and survival rates for some procedures, to help people compare their performance.

The Tories said Prof Kerr would advise Mr Lansley on how to achieve the best clinical outcomes in cancer and other areas and how to use NHS data to help people give patients more choice and drive up standards.

Prof Kerr said he was giving his support to the Tories because he was sure they were "more committed to the NHS we love and understand as free at the point of the access".

"Only that degree of certainty would convince me to go and work for them," he said.

Explaining the switch of allegiance, he suggested NHS reform had lost its way under Gordon Brown.

"We have got lost in the blizzard of increasingly irrelevant targets," he said. "The position now is disenfranchising, dull and disconnected. That is the clinical reality."


Prof Kerr will be paid for the part-time role although the Conservatives stressed that he was not being lined up for a position in government should the party win the election.

Labour says Tory plans to scrap many NHS targets and patient guarantees for diagnosis and treatment are "dogmatic" and could reverse progress in cancer survival rates.

In September, Mr Brown announced that anyone showing symptoms of cancer would have a right to have diagnostic tests and get their results within a week of seeing their GP.

Under the plan, any patient who fails to receive their test results within a week is automatically entitled to be seen elsewhere, either in a different National Health Service facility or a private hospital.

Labour said the guarantee would be accompanied by £1bn of fresh investment in scanners and other equipment.

In a Comres poll of 1,005 people for the Daily Politics, 28% of respondents said they knew what the Conservatives stood for and liked it.

Some 36% said they did not know what the party stood for, while another 36% said they did know what it stood for but did not like it.

Six out of 10 respondents said they expected the Tories to win the election. Of those polled, 46% said they would be unhappy if this happened and 41% said they would be happy.

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