Blunkett meeting with NHS chief to go ahead

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VIRGINIA Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, has backed down in the row over her refusal to allow her opposite number to meet the National Health Service's top official.

Mrs Bottomley has agreed to allow David Blunkett, opposition health spokesman, to meet Alan Langlands, the new chief executive of the NHS management executive, but stipluated that the discussion must be limited to 'established government policies'.

Earlier this month the minister refused his request for a meeting with Mr Langlands, offering instead to answer 'any questions you may have if you put them in writing'.

The row followed claims that the Conservatives were politicising the NHS by denying opposition politicians access to hospitals during the local election campaign.

Mr Blunkett complained that he had had a meeting with Mr Langlands's predecessor, Sir Duncan Nichol, but the Department of Health said that had taken place under rules which allow incoming opposition spokesmen to be briefed by civil servants. However, in a letter to Mr Blunkett, released yesterday, Mrs Bottomley said: 'I am quite content for Mr Langlands to meet you in order to provide you with factual information about the NHS and about established government policies.

'He will not be able to discuss new or undecided policy issues with you.'

Mr Blunkett said yesterday: 'I welcome her climbdown. I believe there is a critical issue relating to the government's willingness to acknowledge that it holds our services in trust, rather than a fiefdom to be populated by their supporters and protected from the scrutiny of elected representatives.

'The lessons of the last few weeks may well have taught Mrs Bottomley a greater degree of humility and an appreciation that she is working within a democracy.'

(Photograph omitted)

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