Published: 16/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5805 Page 35

The biggest private company running franchised hospitals in Germany reckons that one of the main advantages is that it frees managers from political interference. Is this true ?

Worried, Paraguay

Well, of course it frees them from political interference; it frees them from a job as well.

Not that we have any political interference in the UK. And if you do not believe me, I asked the Department of Health press office if there was any and they said no, so there. Political interference is when a minister imposes his will upon the service like that woman a few years ago and whatsisname...the fat bloke who smoked cigars.

What Mr Milburn does is completely different; he just applies a bit of common sense after a full-scale consultation in the Millbank conference room and then starts a bit of a competition by setting goals. It is a bit like football except that Mr Milburn can take the ball home whenever he likes - and a proper thing, too. After all, as that nice bloke from Sainsbury's said years ago, 'Someone's got to be in charge.'

Now that the dust has settled a bit, what do you make of the NHS sending patients to France for treatment?

Roger, Basildon

Well I think It is a very clever way of getting the UK to move up the international health service table.

After all, France is at the top, so if we send them thousands of old crumblies who bung up their system, they'll drop down and we'll go up, will not we?

Anyway, now we can see why Mrs Thatcher didn't want to spend money on the channel tunnel because she saw that it was the best way to improve the performance of the NHS - and she didn't want to do that did she? Well perhaps she did, but not with the help of the French, thank you. I seem to remember that someone tried to do this before when Mrs T was dictator, but it didn't work (and neither did they afterwards). In any event, quite soon we'll have got rid of waiting lists and have the best IT systems in the world, so I suppose the flow will reverse. The Kent hospitals had better brush up on their canard à l'orange and escargots recipes.