The British Medical Association has called for the UK government to have less of a say in the day-to-day running of the National Health Service in England.

The call comes in the first of a series of discussion papers on NHS reform in England, which sees the BMA propose a formal constitution for the body, giving it greater independence from party politics. The organisation also argues that health professionals, in consultation with patients, should have much greater involvement in the management of the NHS.

Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, said that “such an important institution as the NHS should not be used by competing politicians trying to outbid each other with extravagant and unrealistic claims”. He added that there is a 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’s proposals, the NHS would operate under the guidance of a board of governors and 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”. The association also believes that parliament should then have a greater role in the scrutiny of the strategic direction of the NHS.

The BMA reiterated its position that the NHS should remain free at the point of use and be funded by general taxation. It also 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.

Dr Meldrum concluded by saying that “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.”

How popular the suggestion proves to be with the government remains to be seen but the Department of Health has suggested opposition in the past to the idea of transferring decision-making and tax-raising powers to an unaccountable board of governors.