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Breakfast with Frost
Alan Milburn MP, health secretary
Alan Milburn MP, health secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: ALAN MILBURN MP HEALTH SECRETARY JULY 14th, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Now even before Gordon Brown rises tomorrow we know where most of the money is going, the government has already announced record rises in spending on the Health Service acknowledging that the quality of care falls well behind most of our European neighbours. There are tough targets for cutting the time people have to wait for a doctor's appointment or an operation and also ambitious proposals to give patients far more choice in where and when they get their treatment and to pay for it all taxes are set to rise next Easter. The buzz word is delivery and the man charged with delivering tangible improvements in the NHS is Alan Milburn, good morning Alan.

ALAN MILBURN: Good morning Peter.

PETER SISSONS: Can we talk first about the decision this week to effectively decriminalise cannabis, having small amounts for personal use will no longer be an arrestable offence, were you as Health Secretary consulted on that?

ALAN MILBURN: Yes I was and I was very comfortable with it, it isn't actually decriminalising it's reclassifying and it's important that people understand the reasons for it. We'll never decriminalise and we will always maintain our vigilance as far as drugs is concerned but the truth is that organisations like the Association of Chief Police Officers, medical people who are advisors, they themselves as well as young people know that there is a difference between different sorts of drugs and if we're going to have any credibility about the real message that we've got to get across which is the danger of hard drugs, cocaine, heroin and so on and so forth, then there's got to be some changes in the law.

PETER SISSONS: Yes it's a gamble isn't it because your department is the one that will have to pick up a lot of the pieces if it all goes wrong?

ALAN MILBURN: No I don't think it is a gamble actually, I think when you think about some of the people who are now saying to us this is the right thing to do, the police officers in particular, I think people will recognise that it is indeed the right thing to do. We will continue to send out a message and in particular to young people that cannabis alongside other drugs is, it's not a good thing to do, it isn't a good thing to do but the truth is there's a difference between heroin on the one side and cannabis on the other and if we're going to retain a credible message for young people, particularly around these drugs that can kill, heroin and the like, then we really have to be in accord with where people are at.

PETER SISSONS: It's said, I read, that you revealed your personal horror of the approach to Kate Hoey the Brixton MP who shares your concerns. She says today the government have, is indifferent to the views of the ordinary people in the area?

ALAN MILBURN: I don't think I did that, I think I had a conversation with Kate, she's my constituency MP when I live in London.

PETER SISSONS: Oh you live in that area, you live in where the experiment was?

ALAN MILBURN: I live in the area where the experiment was and you know there are mixed views about the experiment, in the end it's a matter for the police to decide how the operationalise this matter.

PETER SISSONS: But do you think it works?

ALAN MILBURN: I think that what you can see is, the figures are quite interesting actually, the number of arrests for Class A drug trafficking actually increased during the period of the experiment by around 10 per cent, so I think that's quite an interesting pointer actually. If we can get the police focused on the things that really count and do the most damage, the dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine and crack and so on and so forth, then I think actually you can begin to make inroads into all this.

PETER SISSONS: And is your department close to recommending some medicinal uses of cannabis?

ALAN MILBURN: Well this is a difficult one and I think you probably know we set up quite a big experiment around this, we've put quite a lot of money into it, we've listened to the views, particularly of people with MS, you had people come to me and say look I've got MS and I find the use of cannabis potentially helpful, so we decided to do a big trial on that. I think we put about a million pounds into it actually, the results of the trial will come through I think in the next couple of years and we will make the decision based on the best clinical evidence, I think that's the right thing to do.

PETER SISSONS: Now the, the spending review, unlike David Blunkett you're laughing, you've got everything you want, it's...

ALAN MILBURN: I don't know about that.

PETER SISSONS: Well education however, this morning, seems to be the new favoured son with a lot more emphasis in the statement on education this time round, is that what you expect?

ALAN MILBURN: Well Tony Blair's always said that health and education, the hospitals and the schools have got to come first and you remember that the Prime Minister came on this programme two years ago and said that we were going to get health spending up to the average across the European Union, people said it couldn't be done, in the budget we confirmed that we will be doing that and indeed the National Health Service is going to be getting more money for a longer period of time than it's ever had before. That means that we've got the fastest growing healthcare system of any major country in Europe now. There are still big problems...

PETER SISSONS: Yeah and you said pouring in public money is not necessarily the answer but presumably that's something you'd agree with Michael Howard on?

ALAN MILBURN: Well it's one of the few things I do agree with Michael about, actually what you've got to do is put the investment in and accompany that by a big programme of reform and that's what's going on. The problem is that the Conservatives want the reforms and they don't want to put the investment in and I think people know that the National Health Service and these other public services have literally decades of neglect and in the end the only way to put that right is to get the resources out to the front line but to make some big changes.

PETER SISSONS: You can't even spend the money you've been given?

ALAN MILBURN: Oh we are spending the money that we've, that we've...

PETER SISSONS: Not last year, you didn't spend it all last year?

ALAN MILBURN: Well I think actually there's a short-fall of about 200 to 300 million, it's worth just putting that in perspective. The National Health Service spends about that sort of money in one day so the money is going in now, we've done what the Prime Minister said we would do which is we're getting health spending up to the European Union average levels. I think the time is now right, with the spending review round the corner, to do for education what we've done for health and that is to commit a growing proportion of the country's national wealth to education and to get our spending there too up to or even beyond the European Union average. Why? Because in the end, you see although getting a good education to all of the country's children costs money in the short-term in the long-term it is actually the best guarantee that you can have of long-term economic prosperity and rises in productivity.

PETER SISSONS: Is this money guaranteed regardless of the state of the economy?

ALAN MILBURN: It is guaranteed, you know the money is there for five years.

PETER SISSONS: Even if there were half the growth that Gordon Brown is forecast...or a period of nil growth you'd still get the money?

ALAN MILBURN: We've got the money until 2008 which is the longest that we've ever had before and it's worth saying that you know when we...

PETER SISSONS: You'll get the money even if taxes have to go up a bit more to, to find it?

ALAN MILBURN: Well we actually did put taxes up and we're very candid about that and I think actually the budget was a very, very important moment indeed because for me and I think for a lot of other people, you know for decades we've had a fallacy in this country that somehow or other you can get world-class health care or indeed education on the cheap. You can't, it's got to be paid for and people will point to Germany or France and say look they've got no waiting lists there. Well there's no mystery behind that, they've had more money and they've had it for decades and we're putting that right. It's going to take time to get there and we should be candid about that with the British public, it isn't a straightforward job to do it, it's got a time, it may take time to make the investment bite, to get the doctors, the nurses, the other staff that you need but some progress is coming through and I think after literally decades when these big public services, health and education, were allowed to fall behind the best in Europe, we're now catching up and it's actually now time to move ahead.

PETER SISSONS: And I think the Sunday Times saying today that Gordon Brown is really concerned that some of this money, or a lot of this money may not be well spent, it may go on, on inflating the wage bill, on inflating prices within the services, what guarantees do, does the public have that they pay their taxes and see the money wasted?

ALAN MILBURN: Oh I think there's a dead simple deal you see, if you're asking people to pay more they've got a perfect right to expect more and we've got to have the mechanisms in place to make sure that happens which is why, for example, we're setting up this new inspectorate which will check exactly where all of the money is going because if you're putting more in then people have got to know what they're getting out for it will trace where the money goes. They won't report to me incidentally, it'll report independently to Parliament once a year on where the resources have gone and whether or not they're beginning to produce results. Now I think they are and if you look around the country, for example I was in Peterborough just two weeks ago looking at their cataract surgery. They've brought cataract waiting times down from 12 months to six weeks.

PETER SISSONS: The big picture revealed in the waiting list report published on the 5th of July showed that overall hardly any extra patients are being treated, the waiting list, people waiting longer than 12 months has fallen but the number of people waiting between six and eight months has risen. Overall the waiting lists are still rising?

ALAN MILBURN: Well the waiting lists are actually down on the position that we inherited when we came in but of course there's an awfully long way to go and I would be a fool to pretend that every problem's been solved, it hasn't and we've just got to be very straight about this. The reason that we've got a ten year NHS plan is that that is how long it is going to take to put it right, it's no use me saying oh look everything in the garden is rosy, it's going to take time to get but I believe profoundly now that the progress is coming through on the back of the resources and the reforms that we're putting in...

PETER SISSONS: Alan Milburn thank you.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

PETER SISSONS: Just a quick final question Alan, MMR, Ken Livingstone says no child of his will be injected with the triple vaccine, what's your view on that, irresponsible?

ALAN MILBURN: Well I'm disappointed that Ken said that and it is naturally based on the best scientific or critical evidence. Look these are difficult issues but you know it's just worth bearing in mind that even after all of the sort of hostile publicity that there's been and Ken's intervention, you know 80 per cent of the parents by the time that their kids are two years old are still going for the MMR - why? Because it is the best most proven vaccine against these very dangerous diseases.

PETER SISSONS: Alan Milburn thank you. And that's it for this week, we're back at the same time next Sunday, join us again then and in the mean time enjoy the sunshine if there's any, good morning.

END

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