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NHS should be a politics free zone

Dr Sarj Bahia writes "Politicians who do not see further than the next election have no stake in the NHS’s long-term survival and therefore are the worst people to have in charge of it".

Many doctors and other professionals gave a big cheer last week when NHS chief Sir David Nicholson’s recommended that the NHS should be free of political interference.

Politicians who do not see further than the next election have no stake in the NHS’s long-term survival and therefore are the worst people to have in charge of it.

Similar to The Bank Of England, which is no longer controlled by government, an independent body made up of doctors, qualified NHS management and lay members should be given a mandate that does not answer to politicians. Instead the controlling board would be overseen by an organisation such as NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) which would evaluate major changes from a cost and benefit analysis.

The Labour government did implement positive changes, which were beginning to prove effective when the Coalition came to power. When their first Health Secretary Andrew Lansley became too unpopular with NHS staff, a better salesman in the shape of Jeremy Hunt was brought in.

The NHS is like an oil tanker which needs time to change direction. This becomes difficult even in a long-term government as each time a new health secretary comes in, the rules seem to change again.

The Royal College Of General Practitioners has outlined a 2020 plan – changes they are striving for within the NHS by that year.

One of the changes is for local area-specific services – so resources are directed to where they are needed most. So in Smethwick, for example, diabetes and heart disease affect a big part of the demographic so more resources need to be ploughed into that area, while in south Birmingham the focus should be on combating the rise of smoking related diseases. I’m amazed that despite this difference, the budget for each Midland borough remains the same.

Yes, cuts need to be made but politicians wielding an axe at an institution that is respected around the world is clearly not the answer. Give the real power to the professionals, who are guided by evidence based improvements, not vote winning tactics.

* Dr Sarj Bahia is medical director and principal GP of Edgbaston Private Medical Practice. www.epmpractice.co.uk            

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