You cannot expect to get the politician off your back while keeping the consumer at arm's length

Are the finals over for the UK's most enduring political football - or does extra time beckon? Could the NHS be freed of its government shackles while it exercises such a powerful hold on the public's body, mind and spirit?

HSJcolumnist and former prime ministerial adviser Simon Stevens believes there is a real prospect of the NHS gaining its freedom - in fact he jokingly suggests that the 60th anniversary of the NHS in 2008 could be its very own independence day.

As he says, the next prime minister - of whatever hue - will be an independence fan. Chancellor Gordon Brown set the Bank of England free almost 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Conservative leader David Cameron chose HSJearlier in the year to set out his first thoughts on the NHS, and independence was his main theme.

The provider arm, in the form of foundation hospitals and their competitors, is becoming more free. As we report elsewhere, social enterprises are asking hard questions about what freedom means for them. The future form of regulation is still in the balance, but is shifting 'offshore', as Mr Stevens puts it.

As Mr Stevens argues, you cannot expect to get the politician off your back while keeping the consumer at arm's length. Local government has enjoyed more autonomy than the NHS through most of its life and can attest to the challenges that distance brings.

Or put another way, if you want to stop being a political football, you don?t walk away from the game, you have to pull on football boots yourself.