Unfinished business for new health secretary, warns The King's Fund

'With the arrival of a new Secretary of State for Health, a short pause to look at the whole health policy agenda would be very welcome,' said Rabbi Julia Neuberger, chief executive of The King's Fund, following the resignation of Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

'The government should now focus on neglected areas of health policy, and continue with its programme of public service reform, if patients are to see significant changes.'

Rabbi Neuberger added: 'The King's Fund has five requests in its wish list for government. First, it should refocus its agenda and invest time and resources for the improvement of neglected services, including putting mental health services and the provision of long term care for the elderly at the top of the agenda.

'Second, for these under-resourced services to advance in terms of both quality of delivery and access, performance targets must be eased. Front line staff must be allowed to provide the care their patients need without being pressurised into meeting quick-fix, short-term goals, and local people could discuss with healthcare staff what local goals should be. Nobody denies that targets are a useful tool, but these need to be fewer, and they need to be evaluated to make sure they do not lead to perverse consequences.

'Third, far greater attention needs to be given to chronic illnesses, which eat up NHS resources. It should be possible to keep people out of hospital and supported at home - and this is a key priority with an ageing population.

'Fourth, foundation trusts need to be piloted and evaluated before being rolled out nationally. In principle, locally accountable health providing organisations are the way forward - but attention needs to be paid to the models of organisation and the detail.

'Fifth, the Secretary of State should be creative with the role, and become the genuine champion of the nation's health, working across departmental boundaries, rather than only being the secretary of state for the NHS.'

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For further information or interviews with The King's Fund staff, please contact Daniel Reynolds in the public affairs office on 020 7307 2581 or 07831 554927, or Helen Evans on 020 7307 2632 or 07774 218439.