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Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Let's sit down and work out what the right system is"
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The BBC's Niall Dickson reports
"Staff have been coming to term with the governments unexpected largesse"
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Surgeon, Sir Magdi Yacoub
"We should be enhancing efficiency"
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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 21:24 GMT
Blair's challenge to health chiefs

Prime Minister Tony Blair has set the health service five challenges in return for the additional £2bn funding announced in the Budget.

Mr Blair said the need for new cash for the National Health Service was clear - but said it must be accompanied by "fundamental reforms".

Blair's NHS challenge
Improved partnership to end wasting resources
All NHS Trusts to meet highest standards
Remove outdated staff divisions
Ensure patients get 'best practice' care
Balance prevention with cure
The prime minister said: "A step-change in resources must mean a step-change in reform.

"I say to our hard-working and dedicated staff in the NHS - you challenged us to come up with the money. We have done so - it was hard won and hard fought.

"We rose to your challenge, now rise to ours: work with us to make sure this money is spent well - make sure the NHS confronts the hard necessities of reform to improve the value we get for the money we spend."

In an unusual move, Mr Blair was making his first ever statement to the Commons on a domestic spending issue, a role normally taken by a secretary of state, to show how important he believes the changes are.

But his speech was mocked by Tory leader William Hague as a mixture of "clichés and waffle".

It is our task as the party which created the NHS to renew it for the 21st century and to defeat the pessimists and the privatisers who would see it dismantled

Tony Blair
In Tuesday's Budget, Chancellor Gordon Brown promised the NHS an extra £2bn each year for the next four years - an annual rise of more than 6% above inflation.

And Mr Blair said: "We have done this because we believe in the NHS. We never want to see it broken up, reduced to a rump service for those who cannot afford to pay for private health care."

But the prime minister said there were too many discrepancies in standards between different hospitals and NHS Trusts which needed to be addressed.

And he urged the health service to meet challenges on partnership, performance, professions, patient care and prevention.

William Hague
William Hague: "Government has failed NHS"
Mr Blair said he wanted to bring all elements of the NHS together to end bed blocking, reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and provide the right level of beds and services for each level of care.

He said £660m of the extra cash for the NHS would go to health authorities and trusts to improve performance, with a new ministerial committee, to be chaired by the prime minister, over-seeing progress.

And Mr Blair said the government would publish a detailed four-year action plan for the NHS in July.


But Tory leader Mr Hague said the prime minister's statement demonstrated the government's "failure" over the NHS.

He said: "After three years of mismanagement of the health service you have the nerve to make a statement about professional failures. What about ministerial failures over the last two years?"

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of British Medical Association, said: "We must all realise that however big this new injection of cash is, difficult decisions will still have to be made on deciding priorities in the health service."

The NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities and trusts warned that ministers should not try to brow beat NHS workers.

Chief executive Stephen Thornton said: "Each of the prime minister's five challenges relies on changing clinical practice which will need a style of working which wins hearts and minds, not naming and shaming."

Christine Hancock, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "This is a golden opportunity to get real solutions from staff in the NHS and to see them translated into practical action."

And Jo Fowler, director nursing at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, said: "It appears Mr Blair is shining a light on the NHS, he is putting what appears to be a lot of time and effort into making sure we understand where good care is and where poorer care is, and how we improve up to the higher standards.

"What we would not want to see is a lot time and effort going into developing a bureaucracy and not into delivering high quality patient care."

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See also:

22 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Leaders fire election opening shots
22 Mar 00 | Health
NHS reform: Blair takes charge
22 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Election under starter's orders
22 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Budget: Full press round-up
21 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Budget at a glance
21 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Understanding the Budget
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