Health Secretary Alan Johnson has promised that the Next Stages review of the NHS by Health Minister Lord Darzi will not lead to structural changes. Mr Johnson also told delegates at the NHS Confederation’s annual conference in Manchester that there would be “no new targets”.

However, he refused to turn down the temperature of the ongoing row between the Government and the Conservatives and British Medical Association over polyclinics. Johnson stressed that the Government “will continue to agitate for improved access to primary care … enhancing it, not diminishing it”.

Measuring up
Johnson also told the conference that “the overwhelming emphasis of the Next Stages review will be on quality. measures: not just effeciveness and safety, but compassion”. In a new initiative trailed to The Guardian, he emphasised that new ratings will be taken to assess staff compassion and friendliness to patients in hospitals: “Our review of the quality framework on performance is under way, and we’re developing metrics in partnership with staff to encompass patient experience…and compassion”.

He said that patients should expect excellent care and clean hospitals as basics, “they are dismayed when little things go wrong: not helping patients to eat at mealtimes”. Johnson added that “it’s not helping if patients feel disempowered or treated without sensitivity”. He revealed that the Department of Health has been working with the Royal College of Nursing on strategies to improve care, with emphasis on respect, dignity and communication”.

Bonfire of the inspectorates?,/b>
After his speech, Johnson made what may prove to be the biggest revelation. A questioner emphasised the regulatory burden on the NHS, with over 70 organisations able to inspect NHS organiations. Johnson told the conference “we ought to boil down the number of inspections”.

He also emphasised that the three-year funding agreement for health in the Government’s last Comprehensive Spending Review was a “done deal”.