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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The government really wants to get a feel for the patient experience"
 real 28k

Monday, 8 May, 2000, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Public speaks out on NHS
Patients will get a say on the future of the NHS
Health Secretary Alan Milburn will on Tuesday launch the public phase of the government's consultation exercise on the future of the NHS.

Until now most of the discussions about the future of the NHS have taken place with doctors and other health professionals.

But ministers are keen to show that they will also take on board the views of users as they decide how best to spend the 20bn, four-year increase in health spending announced in the Budget.

Mr Milburn is on record as saying he wants to create a "consumer-focused" service.

We have a once in a lifetime chance to build the service we all want

Alan Milburn, Health Secretary

He and his team will travel across England to talk to NHS staff and patients.

Then over the next month the Department of Health is organising small focus groups to discover what people of different ages want from the health service.

There will be also be two large workshops - one in Leeds and one in London to which around 100 people will be invited.

And in the next two weeks leaflets will appear in GPs' surgeries, hospitals and chemists shops encouraging the public to send in their views.

The information will be fed into the government's National Plan, to be published in July.

'Once in a lifetime chance'

Mr Milburn said: "We have a once in a lifetime chance to build the service we all want: an NHS that remains true to its origins, accessible to all and free at the point of delivery, but geared up to deliver 21st century medicine."

Funding was available, said Mr Milburn, to create a service that would meet the aspirations of both staff and patients.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Health Secretary Alan Milburn is keen to consult the public
"For the first time in the life of the NHS, every member of staff and every citizen will have the chance to speak up for the modern health service they want to see."

A significant reform of medical training is thought to be central to the plan to transform the service.

GPs' surgeries could be opened at weekends and more drugs made available over the counter in order to make the NHS more accessible.

And the introduction of smart cards, containing patients' medical records, and automated booking systems for operations and appointments are being considered.

Ministers are also said to be considering using the private sector to care for elderly people who have had NHS operations in order to free up beds for others.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said it was "about time" ministers consulted the public, doctors and nurses about the NHS.

"What on Earth have they been doing for the three years since the election?"

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association Council, said: "I welcome the Government's public consultation with those who use the NHS and I hope that the survey reaches those people whose views are not normally canvassed.

"We hope that the Government is prepared to face up to potentially unpalatable messages, namely that public expectations of the NHS may require even more funding than has been earmarked for the next five years."

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See also:

24 Apr 00 | Health
Public to have say on NHS
05 Apr 00 | Health
NHS plunging deeper into debt
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