Published: 14/10/2004, Volume II4, No. 5927 Page 7

Scotland's new health minister has announced that he will personally chair each NHS board's annual accountability review - in public.

The first major policy announcement from Andy Kerr, who took over from Malcolm Chisholm last week, appeared to demonstrate his determination to show he was getting a hold of the service amid escalating protests over NHS reorganisations. Mr Chisholm had been told to 'get a grip' of the health service by Westminster Labour colleagues concerned that hospital cuts could put their seats at risk at the next election.

Mr Kerr made his announcement after meeting the chairs of Scotland's 15 NHS boards. He said: 'The NHS is a public service and it is vital that local communities can find out how their own health service is performing. I want to see more openness in decision-making about services and more accountability in the way they are organised.'

The announcement was greeted with puzzlement by Institute of Healthcare Management Scotland secretary Donald McNeill: 'He's going to be a busy man, ' said Mr McNeill.

'But what puzzles me is why make this announcement now when they are in the process of recruiting a new chief executive of the NHS in Scotland. The accountability review should be the chief executive's way of keeping a grip on the health service.'

But NHS Lothian chief executive James Barbour said the move had clearly been planned for some time. 'This is not about short-term reaction to events of the past few weeks. I was asked about it when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's audit committee about six months ago and said I was in favour of it.

'It is right that the accountability process should be strengthened because we all need to continue to show that the money going into the service is bringing tangible results.'

At the moment, annual accountability reviews are held by Scottish Executive health department officials in private, although a summary report is then made public.