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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
NHS 'must modernise'
Suregons at work
Mr Milburn's speech will alarm many working in the NHS
Further radical reform of the health service is needed if hospitals are to banish poor practice and deliver better treatment, says health secretary Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn used a speech to doctors, nurses and health service managers on Tuesday to emphasise that the NHS must update its practices.

In his speech to the New Health Network in London, he cautioned that unless the service embraces radical change, the public will think the current NHS model is unsustainable.

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn wants the NHS to move forward
The health secretary also unveiled details of the audit of the health service which he delivered to ministerial colleagues at Downing Street on Monday.

Mr Milburn said the government could defend the indefensible, highlighting the problem of patients waiting on trolleys for hour after hour in accident and emergency units for treatment to minor injuries.

The Conservatives, he warned, were "waiting in the wings" with plans to reduce the NHS to a service for dealing solely with "life threatening conditions".

While stressing Labour's support for the principles of the NHS, Mr Milburn insisted that at present "the best principles of the NHS are being brought down by bad practice".

Commons clash

Mr Milburn later clashed with his Tory opposite number Liam Fox during health questions in the House of Commons.

Dr Fox accused the health secretary of "an all spin no substance approach to the NHS", and said that doctors had been made the "latest scapegoats" in "Labour's blame culture".

In a series of exchanges, Mr Milburn repeatedly challenged Dr Fox to defend the Conservatives' own plans for reform of the NHS, saying the Tories aimed "not to modernise it, but to privatise it."

Soured relations

He argued that his audit confirmed that there are capacity problems, with too few doctors and nurses.

But in addition there are wide variations in performance which have "little to do with lack of money, and everything to do with lack of modernisation".

Rodney Ledward
The Ledward scandal has scarred the profession
Mr Milburn's insistence on the need for further radical reform is likely to unnerve the medical profession further.

The government is due to publish a national plan for the NHS later this summer, after months of work by committees of ministers, doctors and other experts.

Relations between the medical profession and New Labour have soured in the wake of the Rodney Ledward scandal.

The gynaecologist was able to continue practising for 16 years despite botching operations on hundreds of women.

Mr Milburn promised to end the "consultant is king" culture in the NHS, and singled out some senior doctors for presenting obstacles to modernisation.

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See also:

02 Jun 00 | Health
Pledge over patient agony
04 Jun 00 | Health
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01 Jun 00 | UK Politics
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30 May 00 | Scotland
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