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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2007, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Labour policy
On Sunday 16 September Andrew Marr interviewed Alan Johnson MP, Health Secretary

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Alan Johnson MP
Alan Johnson MP, Health Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Well Alan Johnson is the new Health Secretary and he joins me now.

Pretty withering verdict from the man who was responsible for a fifty per cent real terms increase in the NHS's budget isn't it?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I don't - I heard your description of "withering" at the top of the programme. I wouldn't describe it as withering.

What Wanless said, first of all he said that there was absolutely clear signs of notable improvements in health outcomes as a result of the extra investment.

Secondly he said the government's policy was heading in exactly the right direction. And thirdly this is him fives years on.

The Wanless Report in two thousand and two set out a ten year programme. This is him five years in talking about where we are.

But the, you know there were very valuable contributions he made about the need to tackle prevention about some of the lifestyle diseases that we have to tackle in order to contain the cost of the NHS in the future.

ANDREW MARR: We can quote bits of his report at each other all morning. But let me give you a couple of concrete examples.

Doctors have had a great deal more money. Their pay has gone up. And yet the number of people they have been treating has gone down.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well there's another point about this, about how you measure productivity in the Health Service. What Derek, what Sir Derek Wanless was doing was looking at the ONS figures up to two thousand and four.

So two years into his ten year vision. Since then of course there's been a lot of advances and you know when I go on programmes ..

ANDREW MARR: Has too much of the money gone in pay?

ALAN JOHNSON: I don't think so, no. You know I have to prepare for people saying that we pay doctors and nurses too little and then another argument for people criticising us for paying them too much. We had to do a lot to attract more staff into the NHS. I think doctors and nurses, so all the other workers in the NHS were given ..

ANDREW MARR: And staff numbers are going up?

ALAN JOHNSON: .. were given appalling pay. They were having to cope with shortages of staff. We've sought to tackle that. And you know I don't think it's wrong at all to lift the pay of professionals in the Health Service.

ANDREW MARR: See he, he says that we're not on course for the world class service that we should be having and have paid for.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I think he's right. We're not there yet. There was a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund which is the independent organisation in America that compared six health services in the developed world - Canada, Australia, US, Germany and New Zealand and ourselves.

We came out top. We came out top on efficiency. We came out top on quality. We came out top on fairness, on equity. So are we there yet? No, we want to go further because there are issues we want to tackle like improving stroke care for instance.

ANDREW MARR: And you've got a heck of a problem because the fat years are over aren't they? I mean you're not going to get the kind of increase in your budget that your predecessors over the last few years have expected.

ALAN JOHNSON: No. But it is important to recognise that that huge increase, that six point one per cent average increase in growth is now locked into the system. We're within touching distance now of the EU average.

That's locked in and we'll have another real terms increase on top of that emerging from the comprehensive spending review. And that money is being, some of it is being spent on staff and we needed to do that, and so we have more doctors and nurses et cetera. But a huge amount of it ..


ALAN JOHNSON: .. as Wanless pointed out is being put into just basically improving medicines, technology, science ..

ANDREW MARR: Let me ..

ALAN JOHNSON: .. that actually improves patient care.

ANDREW MARR: Let me if I may give you another concrete example. Back in two thousand and four the government said that by March two thousand and eight half of the hospital super bug infections would have been eradicated. We're in touching distance too of that date. Is that going to happen?

ALAN JOHNSON: Yes we're ..

ANDREW MARR: Do you think so?

ALAN JOHNSON: We're well on the track to do that, yes. The reduction in the first quarter of this calendar year was six point four per cent. And there's been a steady reduction in MRSA. We want to do more. That's why I'm announcing a whole series of measures next week with Lord Dazi, my junior minister and the prime minister.

And today you'll see, you'll see that we're looking to put matrons and nurses much more firmly in control of this so that they have, they, they had by right a report to the hospital board, so it's the ward ...

ANDREW MARR: To say it's, to say "this ward is dirty". But ...

ALAN JOHNSON: And to say what they need to actually improve the situation on hospital enquired, hospital acquired infections.

ANDREW MARR: The problem with all of this is that you know a few years ago your predecessors were talking about bringing back matrons and putting matrons at the forefront and yet here we are and you've got another initiative about it. Nothing seems to actually be changing on the ground.

ALAN JOHNSON: Well matrons are back. Matrons are there. The problem that we've identified is many matrons and nurses tell us that they're the experts on how to resolve this problem on their wards.

But their voice is not heard clearly enough on the hospital board, the senior echelons. And that's why we're introducing an obligation for them to be listened to at least four times a year for them to report.

And last July the prime minister and myself announced a pot of money that they can access directly to put in more sinks, to change curtains, to change bedding so that we put the people who are you know more closely responsible for this and more expert on this actually in charge of resolving some of the problems.

ANDREW MARR: Now I'm going to be talking to Sir Ming Campbell. And he says he's ready for a general election this autumn. "Bring it on" he says. It's time for that. Do you feel the same way?

ALAN JOHNSON: We're ready for a general election at any time. And I'd be very surprised if the Liberal Democrats in their current situation were seriously looking for a general election at the moment. But look you know we ..

ANDREW MARR: What's your instinct about it?

ALAN JOHNSON: My instinct is we should get on with the job ..

ANDREW MARR: So not ..

ALAN JOHNSON: .. of governing. My instinct ..

ANDREW MARR: Not bother with an election this year?

ALAN JOHNSON: My instinct is, well with the, you know the issues, there's, there's big issues to tackle. And Gordon's dealt with some you know security issues, foot and mouth et cetera since he came into government. His absolute focus is on, on proper governance of this country, not being distracted about this kind of talk about whether to have a general election or not.

I mean I hear the talk about when Margaret Thatcher came to number ten last week as if it was just organised by Gordon Brown the day before. These things take a long time to organise. And it's not part of some plan for a general election. And I think you know ..

ANDREW MARR: What did you, I mean you, you were a, you were a leftie left, trade union leader and all the rest of it back in, back in the - I said "were" ..

ALAN JOHNSON: I've been accused of a lot of things in my time ..

ANDREW MARR: "Were" I said back, you know back in the eighties when she was the great sort of hate figure for the left. What did you feel when you saw her on the doorstep of number ten with Gordon?

ALAN JOHNSON: I thought it was very civilised and very polite and very courteous and a proper sense of courtesy to invite a previous prime minister back to number ten. I thought it was absolutely the right thing to do.

ANDREW MARR: And there's a future for you in the diplomatic service. Alan Johnson thank you very much indeed.


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