Policy and Politics

Article excerpt

Standards, not structures; the Gordon Brown mantra. But what does this mean for health?

The new health secretary, Alan Johnson - described by the unions as 'someone we can do business with' - has certainly got off on the right foot. His promised end to 'centrally dictated, top-down restructuring' of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities has been welcomed with a sigh of relief. Now managers and clinicians, split over whether the proposed review of the NHS will result in major changes to policy, sit in anticipation or fear of what the 'vision for the next decade of the health service' will be. But, of course, it is not only the standard of the NHS that is under the spotlight, but the junior minister Sir Ara Darzi, under pressure to deliver a fresh policy direction.

We wait to see what priority will be placed on public health. Ex-treasury and close Brown ally Dawn Primarolo is hoped to secure better funding than her predecessor in the role of Minister for Public Health.

In his first month as Prime Minister, Brown has presided over the implementation of the most significant public health measure of the last administration (arguably); the introduction of a smoking ban in enclosed public places in England. We can but hope that his successor in the Treasury, Alistair Darling, will take the opportunity missed by Brown to implement a consistent, extensive anti-smoking policy, including increased tax on cigarettes - above inflation - and VAT cuts that last longer than a year on nicotine patches and gums.

Another politician who could back up vocal support through their own actions is ex-Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, caught hanging out a train window puffing away on a cigarette, unapologetically flouting the ban. …