In what could be considered a move to quash growing anger over botched health service reforms, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Health Secretary Alan Johnson have unveiled plans for an “unprecedented” review of the National Health Service.

Leading surgeon and newly-appointed junior health minister Professor Ara Darzi has been tasked with leading the review, which, the government says, will involve patients, doctors, nurses and other practitioners, and offers an opportunity to “ensure that the future of the NHS is clinically led.”

Prof Darzi will predominantly look at how the NHS can provide better access to safer, high-quality care, whilst delivering value for money for taxpayers at the same time, and his conclusions are to be presented to the PM, Chancellor and Health Secretary before the Service’s 60th birthday in July next year.

Moving forward

Commenting on the review, Brown said: “No modern health service that aspires to respond to its citizen’s needs and expectations can afford to stand still. I believe we need to listen to patients’ experience and expectations to forge a new partnership with doctors, nurses and other practitioners and together produce a way forward that will lead to an NHS that is changing to be truly patient-led and ever more responsive to their needs.”

“In facing up to the challenges of the future, we must remain true to the values of the NHS - free at the point of use, open to all, rooted in the British belief in fairness and compassion. It is on this basis that I think we can move forward together to create a world-class health service for Britain.”

And Johnson explained: “What was right for the last decade - top down targets and important but sometimes difficult reforms - will not be right for the next where more local decision-making and staff empowerment need to drive the NHS…This review will set out the next stage for the NHS and ensure that our spending priorities reflect the needs of patients and enable us to establish a new and lasting settlement for a publicly funded and locally accountable NHS for the decade ahead.”

Dr Hamish Meldrum, newly elected chairman of the British Medical Association, which has been fiercely critical over some of the healthcare reforms, said it is “encouraging to hear the health secretary say that he wishes to hear and act on the views of health professionals and patients and to engage in meaningful consultation with them.”

‘Widespread cynicism’

But he went on to warn of “widespread cynicism that this is yet another review that will raise the profession’s hopes and the public’s expectations, yet fail to deliver the real changes that are necessary to restore professional and public confidence.”

Meldrum also said that the Association was “astonished” that, in his first speech to the House of Commons, Johnson had not mentioned the current “recruitment fiasco” faced by junior doctors following the failed Medical Training Application Service, nor the staff and associate specialist doctors “who are the only group of NHS staff not to have benefited from a new contract.”

“Acknowledgement of these pressing issues would have helped to demonstrate to the profession that the government is not only prepared to listen, but is prepared to do something about it,” he noted.

On Tuesday, BMA leaders delivered a petition with nearly 4,500 signatures to the PM calling on the government to approve a contract detailing a new pay and career structure for the approximate 12,500 SAS doctors working in the NHS.

The Association says it has now been waiting seven months to get government clearance for the new contract, which needs to be obtained before SAS doctors – who work at a senior level in a range of specialities in both hospitals and in the community - can vote on the proposals it contains.