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BMA calls for less government control of UK health service

21 February, 2008  

The British Medical Association (BMA) today called for the UK government to have less say in the day-to-day running of the National Health Service (NHS) in England.
In the first of a series of discussion papers on NHS reform in England, the BMA proposes a formal constitution for the NHS, and with it greater independence from party politics. The paper argues that health professionals, in consultation with patients, should have much greater involvement in the management of the NHS.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, said:

“Such an important institution as the NHS should not be used by competing politicians trying to outbid each other with extravagant and unrealistic claims.

“We need to transform the culture of the health service from one of politicisation to one of professionalism. This would ensure greater accountability to patients, and give NHS staff greater freedom to do their day-to-day work efficiently, without government interference.”

Under the BMA proposals, the NHS would operate under the guidance of a Board of Governors. The Department of Health would see its control over day-to-day operational matters significantly reduced, with the focus of its remit shifting to public health issues. Parliament would have a greater role in the scrutiny of NHS strategy, for example in resolving disagreements over the strategic direction of the NHS.

The paper reiterates the BMA’s position that the NHS should remain free at the point of use, and funded by general taxation. It argues that an NHS constitution would provide an opportunity to set out the terms of a “social contract”, where patients have rights – for example to confidentiality and choice about treatment – as well as responsibilities. 

“People deserve a clearer idea of what they are entitled to from their health service,” said Dr Meldrum. “We all want the very best for patients, but we must be honest and realistic about what any health service can do and what it cannot achieve. An NHS constitution would renew and strengthen the public’s trust in an institution which they value very highly.”

British Medical Association