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Johnson's arrival a ray of hope

GP leaders hope the appointment of former education secretary Alan Johnson as health secretary signals the end of the Government's PR war against the profession under the unpopular Patricia Hewitt.

Ms Hewitt quit hours before new Prime Minister Gordon Brown carried out a comprehensive clearout of ministers at the Department of Health, which saw four of her five former colleagues switched to other ministries.

The shake-up sparked hopes that months of what many regard as a poisonous culture of anti-GP spin may end. BMA chiefs celebrating Ms Hewitt's departure said she had jumped before she was pushed and called for an early meeting with Mr Johnson, who has won praise from teachers' leaders for his handling of their profession, previously better known than primary care as a hotbed of discontent.

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'We want him to be a listening secretary of state, even if we won't always agree.'

GPC member Dr Eric Rose, a GP in Milton Keynes, added: 'We hope that with a new health secretary there will be a new relationship. He couldn't be worse than Hewitt, who I think was the worst health secretary I've ever known.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, deputy chair of the GPC, said: 'Most of the health service is pleased to see Patricia Hewitt go. She was incompetent and insincere. We look forward to working with Alan Johnson who has shown himself to be very capable and willing to listen.' He said it was a positive demonstration of the high priority the new Prime Minister intended to give the NHS that he had appointed someone of Mr Johnson's calibre.

Dr Buckman also called for an end to the spinning of stories against GPs and the demise of a 'news-managed culture'.' Alan Johnson doesn't strike me as a man who spins much and that could be very good for the health service.'

The view was backed by NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon, one of the few senior figures of late to defend Ms Hewitt, who said: 'It gives me hope. Alan Johnson is very bright and has a good track record.'

Some GPs expressed disappointment that the reshuffle saw the departure of health minister Andy Burnham, who has been promoted to chief secretary to the Treasury. Mr Burnham had not attracted anything like the near universal GP loathing of his boss, despite being at the forefront of unpopular Government plans such as the controversial patient experience survey and proposals to ditch MPIG funding in favour of incentives to increase surgery opening hours.

Dr Dixon said the loss of Mr Burnham was a blow to the health service. Dr Kailash Chand, a GP in Ashton-under-Lyne and a BMA council member, also regretted a 'loss of continuity' resulting from the sweeping changes.

Who's in and who's out

Swiftly following Patricia Hewitt out of the Department of Health was Andy Burnham, health minister with responsibility for doctors and reform.

Unlike Ms Hewitt, he was picked for a plum job at the Treasury rather than destined for backbench obscurity.

Also leaving the department are Caroline Flint, minister for public health, Lord Hunt, minister for quality, and Rosie Winterton, minister for health services

The sole survivor is Ivan Lewis, care service minister.

Newcomers to the department under Alan Johnson are Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Dawn Primarolo, Ben Bradshaw and Ann Keen

The Hewitt effect

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