by MONITOR
ALAN Milburn voluntarily left the Cabinet to spend more time with his family. John Reid, who succeeded him at the Department of Health, later moved on to the Ministry of Defence. Patricia Hewitt was next at Health and she must now be wishing that she was still in the calm waters of the Department of Trade and Industry. The problems which the National Health Service is facing must have had their roots in Mr Reid's or even Mr Milburn's time but it has fallen to Ms Hewitt to take the flak for them. She is probably a competent administrator but she lacks political judgement. Her decision to announce, a few hours before addressing the Unison trade union conference this week, that the NHS had just had “its best year ever” was a serious mistake even if there is some supporting evidence. At his monthly news conference Tony Blair showed his frustration that the public and the media seem unable to appreciate the tremendous improvements that Labour has made in the NHS, but he was wise enough not to repeat Ms Hewitt's claim. Mr Blair is still talking about pushing through NHS reforms but in doing so he begs the questions of why sometimes radical changes are still needed after Labour has been in office for nearly a decade. Many different views, ranging from favourable personal experiences to reports of closures, dismissals and inefficiency, leave no way of knowing whether the NHS, overall, is doing well or badly.