Published: 18/04/2002, Volume II2, No. 5801 Page 7

Prime minister Tony Blair has discussed ways to improve morale in the NHS with key figures in health policy, in a summit just days before the Budget.

Mr Blair met the group of around 20 health experts last Thursday for informal discussions about the priorities in health and obstacles to reform.

At the meeting, attended by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, chair of the Bristol inquiry, NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp, NHS Confederation chief executive Gill Morgan and NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon, one of the ideas under discussion was what the NHS could learn from private industry in terms of perks to keep staff happy.

Dr Dixon told HSJ: 'We looked at a lot of the softer issues - like making sure you have the workforce on your side. We looked at the sort of ethos the best of the private sector has to offer - those who look after their workforce.

'If we can make it better for our staff, then that will make it better for our patients.'

Dr Dixon said he was impressed with how well-briefed the prime minister was on issues like primary care capacity and access, and commented that Mr Blair was 'very relaxed' and 'very ready to listen'.

'He seemed to be working in an open and very democratic way. It was like a breath of fresh air, ' Dr Dixon added.

Dr Dixon said he was reassured by the high level acceptance of the task in hand in supporting primary care trusts and ensuring that the public engage with the new NHS. He said this also meant the prime minister accepted that money and investment in management capacity were needed.