Health minister Alan Milburn this week launched a consultation document on developing a performance framework for the NHS. It will provide 'a more rounded assessment of NHS performance' and will replace the purchaser efficiency index from 1 April.

The Department of Health has denied weekend press reports that health secretary Frank Dobson is intending to scrap care in the community. It said a review by junior health minister Paul Boateng was designed 'to make sure the policy works better, not scrap it'. However, Mind chief executive Judi Clements criticised Mr Dobson's comments that 'some people could be an awful nuisance to their neighbours' and warned of a ploy to distract attention from resource gaps.

See Politics, page 23.

Labour MP John Austin has indicated he may draft a bill to make abortion easier following health secretary Frank Dobson's statement of his 'own view' that the rules on abortion currently 'obstruct women' and they should be referred by one doctor rather than two. Mr Austin attracted the support of 60 MPs last year for a Commons motion calling for reform of the 30- year-old abortion laws.

Test cases on the rights of thousands of part-time workers to join occupational pension schemes began in the House of Lords this week. Scheduled to last for six days, the hearings could lead to part-timers who have been excluded from joining such schemes being entitled to backdate their pension service to 1976.

White consultants are three times more likely than consultants from ethnic minorities to get an NHS merit award, according to the Medical Practitioners' Union. The union made its claim after analysing the current list of award holders, and called for changes to the 'highly secretive system based on patronage'.