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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Promising to listen"
 real 28k

UK Health Secretary, Alan Milburn
"We have a lottery in care in the NHS"
 real 28k

Rodney Bickerstaffe, leader of Unison
and heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub discuss the new census
 real 28k

Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Public quizzed over NHS
High Street shoppers
The government wants your views on the NHS
The government is undertaking a massive consultation exercise to discover the public's priorities for the National Health Service.

Twelve million questionnaires have been distributed to supermarkets, chemists, libraries and GP and dental surgeries.



I want to hear what are the top three changes that people believe would make the NHS better

Health Secretary Alan Milburn

The questionnaires will also be available to patients on hospital wards and their relatives, and Wednesday has been called National Census Day by the government.

But the Conservatives have dismissed the census as nothing more than a "gimmick" while the Patients' Association claimed it was too little, too late and said ministers would have to ensure they genuinely listened to the public's views.

A survey of patients carried out by the association in April found that the key priorities were qualified doctors, more trained nurses, and an end to discrimination against elderly patients.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: "Of course, we have to get the basics right: more doctors and nurses, cleaner hospitals and shorter waiting lists.

"But I want to hear what are the top three changes that people believe would make the NHS better."

'Could be better'

He added: "The National Health Service belongs to all of us. It is a great British institution - but it could be a lot better."

Tory health spokesman Dr Liam Fox said the exercise was a waste of money.

He told the BBC: "It's a bid odd after 18 years in opposition and three in government - when they've had a lot of time to think about it - that they are now asking the public how they should be running the health service.

"It shouldn't be NHS census day, it should be NHS crisis day."

The Patients' Association has not been invited to take part in the scheme.



Patients should be talked to on a day to day basis

Mike Stone, Patient's Association
Its director Mike Stone told BBC News Online: "We welcome the government talking to patients, as long as it is a positive, two-way dialogue, not spin.

"Patients are very, very concerned about the state of the National Health Service. They must be listened to.

"Patients should be talked to on a day to day basis."

The NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities and trusts, said the consultation was "no publicity stunt" and urged patients to take part.

Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the confederation, said: "The government has gained a reputation for spin, which is unfortunate because the national plan is a real process with potentially profound consequences.

"If only the main ideas being pushed by NHS management, and actively discussed in the modernisation action teams, are adopted in the national plan we are looking at a radical transformation of the NHS."

Patient Concern said the consultation was a "sham".

A spokesman said: "It is a downright insult to patients to find that, to meet the deadline, they must post back the form by Saturday morning. Moreover, up to 12m replies must be collated, analysed and evaluated within 10 days."

Six government-appointed action committees are drawing up a national plan for reforming the NHS, due to be published in July.

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NHS census
Substance or spin?
See also:

31 May 00 | UK Politics
Plan 'to end NHS queues'
22 Mar 00 | Health
NHS reform: Blair takes charge
08 May 00 | Health
Public speaks out on NHS
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