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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 07:55 GMT
Hewitt answers readers' questions
The government has made the NHS one of its priorities
The BBC News website interviewed Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt this week.

We put some of your questions to her.

Why is there so much uncertainty in our local health economy as to which services will be reconfigured? This is creating blight for all NHS staff. Dr Sarah Dalton, from Colchester, Essex

Ms Hewitt said: "We have got headlines about hospital closures when actually we have rebuilt or are rebuilding 70 new hospitals.

"This is not about closures and downgrading. It is about saying as medicine changes the NHS has to change with it.

"It is about doing more day surgery which is better for patients, it is about putting more staff... and money in the community [services].

"It is about having more specialist services where they are needed.... hospitals which have got the right specialist services in place 24 hours a day, seven days a week ready to give the operation which will save your life."

Why are so many cuts having to be made?

Ms Hewitt said: "We have had a very difficult year financially. We are now on track to get the NHS as a whole back in balance and I am absolutely confident that will be done by the end of March.

"But with the benefit of hindsight it is clear we should have started in putting in place much earlier a financial system that was not only fair but was absolutely transparent."

How come however much you see handwash gels at the doors to wards you rarely see visitors and especially health professionals use them. Why isn't MRSA taken as seriously? Amy Butterfield, Rotherham

Ms Hewitt said: "We made MRSA a priority because we were not satisfied with the situation in too many hospitals with too many people getting MRSA.

"That is why we set the target we knew when we set it - halve the MRSA rate by 2008 - we knew that was a very challenging rate but we knew only by setting a target would we get the attention we need for it.

"Until very recently hospitals were not publishing their MRSA rates. We have shone a light on it."

Why, when it is called the National Health Service, is there still a postcode lottery for certain treatments? Peter M, Loughborough

Ms Hewitt says: "Ever since the NHS was created, doctors have made decisions about what patients get. Different doctors have made different decisions so it has not always been consistent across the country.

"What has happened more recently is that decisions which were hidden are being done in a much more transparent way.

"We set up the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to get these decisions made in a much more consistent way and get rid of much of the postcode lottery which has actually been part of the NHS for nearly 60 years.

Given the example of poor leadership, communication and negative "can't do" attitude shown by the management of Rotherham General on the programme Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS, it is any wonder it is such a mess? Anthony Hopkins, from London

Ms Hewitt said: "I think there are elements in the Gerry Robinson programme about Rotherham that many people working in the NHS and being treated will recognise about the difficultly in changing any large organisation.

"But what was also quite noticeable was that it was often staff who were suggesting we need to change this.

"Of course, there are areas where services could be improved, but it is important to remember that huge progress has been made."

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