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Editor’s blog Friday 14 May 2010: Welcome to the 'B Boy' ministers Burns and Burstow

The B boys
So we welcome the two new health ministers announced, Conservative Simon Burns MP and Lib Dem Paul Burstow MP.

Simon Burns

Burns was a shadow health minister 2004-5, and a member of the commons health select committee 1999-2005.

His Wikipedia page has been recently edited, to remove its reference to this driving accident outside Parliament in 2008, to which charge he changed his plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘guilty’ on the eve of the trial.

He was also a health minister in the Major government 1996-7, responsible for mental health, in which he clearly retains an interest. He spoke well on the subject in a 2006 Commons Queens Speech debate.

Burns's views on NHS redisorganisation are interesting. In 2006, he told the Commmons, ”I ask the Government and Ministers to reflect and not to decide, as all politicians do, that they have to do something about a given problem, as doing something usually means reorganising or changing. It is not always necessary to change. Sometimes, it is better just to sit still and let the existing system bed down, so that it can deliver the services to the highest quality that we could hope for“.

In 2008, Burns also said, ”There has been too much of a propensity—certainly under this Government, but also under Conservative Governments in the past—for politicians to interfere when they come into office, and to feel that they have to prove their stamina and machismo by making changes, sometimes, it seems, just for the sake of it.

“The national health service has had too many changes and reorganisations under successive Governments. It is suffering from a surfeit of change and from fatigue. It needs to be able to settle in with what it has, and to get on with the job that it is meant to be doing—providing first class health care for all.

“That is the challenge to politicians of all political parties. The reorganisations and changes have inevitably led to money being wasted and, certainly over the past 11 years, in certain areas, to almost going full circle and coming back to square one, with upheaval and waste of resources in between. That, too, has to stop.

“We need a health system in which the medical practitioners, who are the best qualified to make the judgments, make those judgments for the furtherance of patient care, rather than one in which politicians dictate from Whitehall what they believe should be happening. To give the health service that freedom, within its existing principles, would be a tremendous step forward that would benefit patient care and the working of the health service, as well as saving money from waste that could then be reinvested in patient care, which is the most important thing”.

This speech to Essex GP practice mamgers in 2004 is also interesting. In places, he defends Liam Fox’s dearly-departed patient’s passport plan; yet there are also consistent through-lines about targets and patient choice.

Paul Burstow

Paul Burstow (2010) - "There is a huge accountability deficit here. PCTs cannot be held to account, and sometimes getting an answer to any such questions is like getting blood out of a stone”.

Burstow is a former health select committee member 2003-6, and his personal website prominently features a campaign to keep open and refurbish St Helier Hospital (formerly my local; a grim building of confidence-sapping aspect which anecdote reports was built with its back as the front, due to the architect’s plan being the wrong way round)

In March 2010, Burstow secured a Westminister Hall debate on demential strategy, during which he said, “dementia research is woefully underfunded: the Government invest only 2 per cent. of their medical research budget in dementia, spending many times more on other health conditions”.

Burstow used the occasion to highlight the fact that the 2010-11 Operating Framework “did not identify dementia as a national priority … the vital signs indicators to be used by primary care trusts do not mention dementia. The Department of Health has said that vital signs cannot be reopened to include anything else until the next spending review.“

He also added, “the money that Ministers said would be allocated to carers-particularly for carers' breaks-has been siphoned off into other NHS budgets … money is not delivering what it was intended to deliver, and that PCTs planned to spend only 25 per cent. of the £100 million to increase services for carers … a significant proportion of the money that is being spent is probably being double-counted against the money allocated for other Government strategies. In my patch, the carers strategy money has been double-counted alongside money for the dementia strategy. The two strategies have been put together, so that the PCT can claim that it is achieving its spend”.

Burstow also concluded, “There is a huge accountability deficit here. PCTs cannot be held to account, and sometimes getting an answer to any such questions is like getting blood out of a stone”.

Some things in common
Both men have been party whips.

Both are clearly going to have an interesting time ahead – and they have some good questions to ask. That is always a good start.