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Wednesday 22 January 2003

Speech on the NHS [9/12/1997]

Tuesday 9 December 1997

Creating the NHS was the greatest act of modernisation ever achieved by a Labour government. It banished the fear of becoming ill that had for years blighted the lives of millions of people.

But I know that one of the main reasons people elected a new Labour Government on May 1 was their concern that the NHS was failing them and their families.

In our contract with the people of Britain I promised that we would rebuild the NHS. We have already made a start. The Government is putting an extra £1.5 billion into the health service during the course of this year and next. More money is going into improving breast cancer and children’s services. And new hospitals are being built. We have pledged to make real increases in health spending year on year.

I don’t just want to save the NHS, I want to give it a new lease of life. It will take time but with this government the NHS will get better every year so that it delivers a modern, dependable service - based on need not ability to pay.

The White Paper we are publishing today marks a turning point for the NHS. It replaces the internal market with "integrated care". We will put doctors and nurses in the driving seat. The result will be that £1 billion of unnecessary red tape will be saved and the money put into frontline patient care. For the first time the need to ensure that high quality care is spread throughout the service will be taken seriously. National standards of care will be guaranteed. There will be easier and swifter access to the NHS when you need it. Our approach combines efficiency and quality with a belief in fairness and partnership. Comparing not competing will drive efficiency.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the NHS, it is time to reflect on its huge achievements. But in a changing world, no organisation, however great, can stand still. The NHS needs to modernise in order to meet the demands of today’s public.

This White Paper begins that process of modernisation. The NHS will start to provide new and better services to the public. Services that make it more responsive to a more demanding public. Services never before provided by the NHS.

For example, we will introduce a nurse help-line to provide advice to people in their homes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

We will bring new technology to the centre of the NHS to provide better services to the public - linking GP surgeries to specialist centres, quicker test results, and direct booking of hospital appointments.

In short, I will take on those who say the NHS has had its day and all we can do is preside over its slow decline. I have great ambitions for the NHS. Not just muddling through, or coping, but taking a bold and positive leap forward. I will work with you, the people who make the NHS so special, to make it a modern and dependable service of the future. We will provide the resources, but in exchange the NHS must modernise.

It is a big challenge but I am confident that with the support of the public, the dedication of NHS staff such as yourselves, and the backing of the government, we can again create an NHS that is truly a beacon to the world.

Today’s White Paper is a central part of our plans to build a modern Britain. It follows yesterday’s launch of the Social Exclusion Unit. The government is delivering on its pledges. There is more money to back our drive to raise standards in schools; tough new measures to reduce youth crime; a £300m national childcare strategy; corporation tax cut to the lowest level of any major European country; £50 to every pensioner on income support to help with winter fuel bills; a ban on all handguns; and the biggest ever programme to get the young and long term unemployed back to work.

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