Does Burnham’s speech create a real NHS dividing line?

Having enjoyed his brief summer romance with a patriotic God-save-our-NHS twitter campaign, Andy Burnham got down to business today setting out a more sophisticated vision for health reform that could set the agenda for the election campaign. No longer is he claiming that Conservative “localism” was the threat against which the NHS must be defended. Instead, the speech has been sold (or re-sold) as promoting GP choice. But there was a more subtle message about the pragmatic use of market reform where it can improve quality and efficiency.

This is likely to be painted as a ‘retreat from reform’ by the City but actually shows a return to the objective of reform – quality, efficiency and personalisation, using markets as a tool not an end in itself – and away from a game of sending signals to industry and Unions.

This lays down a challenge to Andrew Lansley – who has proposed an open market model enforced by a competition regulator with “clout” – to set out his approach to marketisation in the downturn; and could upset the cosy relationship with the BMA that is still fighting a war with Labour.

Joe Farrington-Douglas is writing in a personal capacity.

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