Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown's decision to widen the remit of the co-operation between their two parties has given rise to speculation that Labour and the Liberal Democrats might at some stage work together on health policy.

The two leaders' joint statement announced their intention to review the work of their joint consultative committee - which has tackled constitutional reform - and look at ways in which its framework can be widened.

'This will be an important step in challenging the destructive tribalism that can afflict British politics even where parties find themselves in agreement,' the statement said.

The whole issue of joint working is a sensitive area for both parties. But it also clearly offers the kind of co-operation hinted at in the Liberal Democrats' idea of a 'non-political' standing conference on health. That calls for 'a forum of patients, politicians and stakeholders away from the political hotbed of Parliament to discuss policy proposals and their impact on health users'.

The reportedly consensual approach of the Commons health committee has also encouraged those in favour of collaboration that more work is possible.

Whether the two parties have enough in common to co-operate on health policy as a whole is debatable. But some see scope for joint working in certain areas, such as public health.