The Labour Party in Blackpool: Blunkett seeks new way forward on health service

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Indy Politics
A SIGNIFICANT rethink of Labour's health policy was signalled yesterday by David Blunkett as he told the conference that 'a new agenda for change' was needed.

The party's health spokesman promised continuing campaigns 'against trust status and GP fundholding'. But he indicated that Labour had to find a better alternative to the Conservative changes in the National Health Service. Simply going back to the past was not an option. 'There has got to be an alternative that is better,' he said.

He indicated sympathy, not necessarily for the Conservatives' purchaser-provider split between health authorities and hospitals, but for some form of divide. 'There are parts of health provision that are aided by a split between direct management and overall responsibility for health strategy.' But strong antipathy to GP fundholding remains, as Mr Blunkett believes it is destroying coherent planning. 'I believe the Government is going to have to re-invent some form of co-ordinating body for GP fundholders.'

Mr Blunkett said trusts needed a relationship with their local community. He told the conference that NHS trusts 'don't want to be accountable locally and the Government doesn't want them to be. But the trusts now don't want to be accountable to the Secretary of State either. Who the hell do they think they are accountable to?'

Delegates bitterly attacked the pounds 80,000 and pounds 90,000 salaries being earned by NHS executives, when wards were closing, nurses being made redundant and operations cancelled.

And they also listed cases where NHS 'whistle-blowers' had been fired or suspended. Derek Fatchett, MP for Leeds Central, referring to Dr Chris Chapman, the Leeds scientist fired after making allegations about fraud, said: 'In John Major's Britain you can be sacked for telling the truth.'

Rhodri Morgan, MP for Cardiff West, said the Cardiff Royal Infirmary had been told in August that its target was 50 artifical knee operations this year when it had already performed 78. 'In the remaining eight months of the financial year they are expected to do minus 28 operations . . . Whatever happened to money following the patient?'

Mr Blunkett, warning of cuts to come in the current spending round, told the conference that nothing better illustrated the difference between Labour and the Tories than the health service. 'Where there should be care, we have competition,' he said.