The North East is politically solid Labour and it seems unlikely that health will be a big issue at the forthcoming election. Newcastle is seen as a privileged area, not only in terms of the concentration of ministers'constituencies there, but the number of prominent medical professionals. As well as primeminister Tony Blair, notable 'locals' include health secretary Alan Milburn, cardiac specialist and Royal College of Physicians president Professor Sir George Alberti, National Institute for Clinical Excellence chair Professor Mike Rawlins, John Burn, professor of human genetics at Newcastle University, General Medical Council president Sir Donald Irvine and chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson.

Newcastle has benefited from a cash injections in the past few years, and the medical and political links mean it has been seen as a test bed for much of the modernisation agenda.

One source says: 'There is a loyalty and affinity in Newcastle that means new initiatives can be tested there. '