NHS row deepens as ‘pop star’ Blair exits stage

Senior Labour figures have been accused of focusing on the handover of power within the party and Tony Blair’s “pop star style” farewell tour, rather than the ongoing problems within the NHS.

Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have attacked the prime minister as a “lame duck” leader during the transition period and warned the government it is failing to address the problems facing the health service.

The latest criticisms follow the resignation of British Medical Association (BMA) chairman James Johnson, prompted by the row over junior doctors’ training applications. The legality of the online application process will also be the subject of a judicial review this week, in further pressure to the government.

The Liberal Democrats said the present government was leaving the NHS “in limbo under a lame duck minister”, following Mr Johnson’s resignation.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb MP said: “Whilst Tony Blair jets around the world and Gordon Brown is busy re-branding himself, the NHS is left in limbo under a lame duck minister.

“The sorry catalogue of errors that make up the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) fiasco is sadly symbolic of this government’s mishandling of health service reform.

Mr Lamb questioned why Mr Johnson had resigned but health secretary Hewitt has not.

He said: “It is unacceptable that ministers are seemingly absolved from ministerial responsibility during this transitional period.”

Mr Johnson resigned suddenly yesterday amid criticisms of his handling of the MTAS row. He said attacks on his role had got “very nasty” and he felt he had lost his colleagues’ confidence.

BMA treasurer Dr David Pickersgill said colleagues had lost confidence in Mr Johnson after he had failed to convey sufficient anger over the system’s failures.

Conservative leader David Cameron called on the government to improve training for junior doctors as part of his seven point plan to “save the NHS”.

He challenged Gordon Brown to halt accident and emergency and maternity service closures; launch an independent review of the NHS IT project; abolish central targets; improve cooperation with GPs; introduce a fairer funding system; and improve action on mental health.

Mr Cameron said: “Gordon Brown says he wants to listen and learn. Well I hope he is listening today, and I hope he takes the action we need to save our NHS. If he does, we will back him.

“If he doesn’t, it will confirm in people’s minds that Labour can’t any longer be trusted with the future of the NHS.”

The Conservative leader echoed the Liberal Democrats’ claim that Labour are presiding over a period of missed opportunity.

Describing Mr Blair’s departure as akin to a “pop star style farewell tour,” he argued the long Labour handover is time that could have been spent fixing the NHS.

Tony Blair – who fronted the rock band Ugly Rumours at university and has been known to play guitar in his local labour club – denied claims he was acting like a pop star.

He said Mr Cameron was “flailing around a bit” in his efforts to attack the government. “It’s a little bit pathetic,” Mr Blair added.