Further signs that New Labour’s thought police have a tight grip on the health service emerged at a recent Northern and Yorkshire regional Institute of Health Services Management meeting. Among the speakers was NHS boss Alan Langlands, who once again poured forth about he how wanted everyone to be part of the reforms, not like last time when they were ‘hijacked’ by a small minority. But of around 150 delegates, only one could muster the courage to ask a question. ‘We just can’t be seen or heard to be critical, ’ managers were heard to mutter. IHSM deputy director Suzanne Tyler confirmed there were ‘not a lot of questions at all’, adding: ‘I am not sure whether it was because by that time it was 8.30pm and people wanted to go off and have supper.’

Dear old Dobbo was on top form in the Commons last week as he unveiled the first 11 health action zones. As a long line of Labour MPs stood up to praise him for the initiative, he waxed lyrical on the evils of ill health and inequality. ‘All children, ’ Frank assured the House, ‘should have the same chance of a job, a healthy life, a successful marriage producing healthy children, and to break out of the terrible cycle of deprivation that has dragged down the lives of millions of people. In my limited and humble way, so long as I stand at the dispatch box, I will remain committed to that.’ He may even have had tears in his eyes towards the end. If so, did they spring from the emotion of the moment? Or was Frank trying to show his political masters that he is the man to keep on leading the Department of Health, not the ideal candidate for mayor of London?

Not that a little emotion ever stopped Dobbo having a go at the old regime. His favourite target appears to be an old Monitor favourite too, Golden Virginia, but she was not around last Tuesday. So he took a swat at IHSM director Karen Caines instead. Conservative Patrick Nicholls took time out from responding to the HAZ announcement to attack the public health green paper for having few specific targets. ‘He has only to consider the remarks of Karen Caines, ’ Mr Nicholls suggested. ‘She said: ‘on this most crucial issue they have bottled out’.’ ‘I have to say, ’ responded Dobbo, ‘that criticism from Karen Caines - who with her husband was one of the principal architects of the lunatic system for organising the NHS we inherited from the Tories - is music to my ears.’

This week’s Richard Branson award, honouring those responsible for the biggest let-down since the Virgin chief’s hot air balloon last fizzled out at 20,000 feet, goes to South Staffordshire health authority’s PR bods for their ‘health role for legendary funnyman’ effort. ‘John Cleese, star of the classic Fawlty Towers… is doing a star turn for South Staffordshire health chiefs, ’ it starts promisingly. But, oh dear: apparently the HA and county council ‘have got together to buy a selection of 45-minute videos’ produced by the comedian. Is that the sound of hot air escaping?