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Editor's blog Monday 7 March 2011: It's not Burns; it's balls

You will probably remember Mace-swingin' Haymarket-publishin' late-payin' Thatcher-topplin' own furniture-buyin' Michael Heseltine's infamous comment, on hearing of a Gordon Brown speech on the economy to the City using the phrase 'neo-classical endogenous growth theory'. Hezza repeated the line to his audience, adding in reference to Brown's economist lieutenant Mr Ed, "that's not Brown's; it's Balls'!"

Health Minister and Dale-Winton-on-Valium-soundalike Simon Burns made an interesting statement today in response to BMA consultants' chair Dr Mark Porter's expression of concerns in The Guardian that the current NHS reforms will increase inequality of provision.

Burns replied, "We are modernising the NHS so we can offer patients high quality care and improved health outcomes. Our cancer survival rates are amongst the worst in Europe so doing nothing is not an option.

"We expected some opposition to our modernisation plans from the unions. The BMA have historically opposed giving patients a choice of voluntary, independent and public sector services. But it is not in the interests of patients to bow to their demands.

"We want patients to choose the best care to suit them, but that does not mean a compromise in quality. Only those who meet rigorous quality standards will be able to provide services.".

The BMA have their faults, but Burns' basic argument - that they oppose allowing patient choice - is not borne out by the facts.

The BMA does not and did not campaign against people's rights to choose their GP. Moreover, GMS GPs are, however nominally, the independent sector.

When patient choice was first mooted, the BMA did not oppose it (they did oppose the market reforms, which are different). Nor have there yet been widespread boycotts of Choose And Book (despite technological shortcomings).

Historically, the BMA's attitude can be confusing. Most GPs in the BMA, as is well-known, opposed the 1945 NHS Bill as proposed because they feared the consequences of being made into civil-servant-type employees of the state.

Those GPs' argument was that they wanted to retain their independent status, to be better able to support patient autonomy - and arguably, choice (although in the era's paternalistic practice, it was GPs who did the choosing of where to refer).

Contrastingly, many BMA hospital doctors of the 1940s were in favour of the NHS.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, and Simon says that history isn't either. He's wrong in what he says here: it's not Burns; it's balls.