Nye's baby is safe in Alan's hands

Share

Alan Milburn is no Nye Bevan. When Tony Blair deliberately draws comparisons between Milburn's National Plan for the NHS and Bevan's 1948 creation, he overstates his case. What Bevan created, Milburn is tinkering with: whereas Nye's name will still be one to conjure with a decade from now, Alan Milburn's will more likely be the answer to a tricky pub quiz tie-breaker. But perhaps a new Bevan was not what the NHS needed. The problems of the NHS were not so severe that yet another restructuring was called for. The Tories tried that, and it resulted in few improvements.

Alan Milburn is no Nye Bevan. When Tony Blair deliberately draws comparisons between Milburn's National Plan for the NHS and Bevan's 1948 creation, he overstates his case. What Bevan created, Milburn is tinkering with: whereas Nye's name will still be one to conjure with a decade from now, Alan Milburn's will more likely be the answer to a tricky pub quiz tie-breaker. But perhaps a new Bevan was not what the NHS needed. The problems of the NHS were not so severe that yet another restructuring was called for. The Tories tried that, and it resulted in few improvements.

Consolidation of best practice, improvements in delivery, a rediscovery of pride in service, more power and information to patients. These were what was required. These, we hope, are what will emerge. Indeed, unlike Labour's 1997 waiting-lists pledge, Milburn's plan is notably free from gimmicks. That is to the good. Most medical professionals agree that the waiting-lists target was an expensive distraction. Targeting waiting times, rather than lists, is a wholly sensible switch which, without the millstone of that pledge, Labour should have made years ago.

Beyond the welcome statistics of doctor and nurse numbers, new hospitals and waiting-list cuts, Milburn's most significant changes are cultural. "Consultant is king" is an outdated way of working. As any patient who has tried casually to read doctors' letters upside down from a consultant's desk can assert, the present culture of secrecy is frustrating and insulting. Milburn plans for patients to hold their own records, and for letters between doctors to be routinely copied to patients.

Meanwhile, newly qualified consultants will get better pay - but will be obliged in return wholly to practise within the NHS for seven years. Too many hospital wards are dirty, too much food barely edible. Now we will have a "patients' advocate" to whom we can complain. This is not a minor issue: as a result of poor conditions, hospitals - supposedly a place to recuperate - are too often havens for infection.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The NHS has not been "the envy of the world" for years - and despite Milburn's efforts, it probably won't be again. But by imaginatively looking to the future, Milburn and Blair have ensured that there's life in the old dog yet. The National Plan leaves the Tories floundering for a response.

Cynics might argue that by aiming for 2008 to deliver much of the improvements, the Government has ideas above its station: to see whether it can fulfill its promises we would need to re-elect Labour - twice. But better to aim for long-term incremental improvement than for instant and diversionary gratification. Anyway, this plan should certainly see Labour safely through the first electoral hurdle next year. Milburn's legacy may not be as memorable as Bevan's. But, in its own way, it could be as significant.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits