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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK

UK Politics

Frank Dobson's speech in full

This is the full text of Health Secretary Frank Dobson's speech to the Labour Party conference:

It's a great privilege to be Secretary of State for Health. And one of the best parts of the job is meeting so many of the highly skilled and dedicated staff in the Health Service.

People like Anne and Lesley.

People who will take on new ideas and turn them into reality.

And I'm not just talking about NHS Direct.

Today I can announce another 17 NHS walk-in centres.

Patients need more convenient primary care services. The first ever national patient survey confirms that patients trust and value their GP. But a quarter of patients said that they had to wait four days for a routine appointment. So we need to give patients extra options to back up the traditional services.

And our 36 NHS walk-in centres will do just that.

As the Prime Minister explained on Tuesday, they will offer quick access to advice and treatment in convenient locations at convenient times - early mornings, late evenings, weekends.

A walk in centre in Nottingham, for example, open 7am to 10pm seven days a week. And in Croydon in a city centre shop-front.

And when the doom merchants say the NHS can't compete with the private sector, just tell them this.

On 19th July, I announced where the first round of NHS walk-in centres would be. And what happened? On 20th July - the very next day - the company that had been running private walk-in centres announced they were closing all their centres outside London.

And today, I can report to you that the NHS walk-in centre in Birmingham has decided on its new premises. And yes - it's the one abandoned by the private sector. And with the NHS, of course, the service will be free. Who says the NHS can't compete and can't be top quality.

And make no mistake about it, these are developments the pioneers of our party would have been proud of.

Those pioneers founded the Labour Party because they wanted everybody to have a decent standard of living, a decent job, a decent home. A living wage. Clean air to breathe. Every child to have a good start in life, every mother to have safe childbirth, everybody to be cared for in old age or if they fell ill or had an accident.

And as a result of the changes these pioneers set in train, things have improved.

But even with all the advances of the 20th century the fact remains - poor people are ill more often and die sooner. Infant mortality in the East End of London is twice as high as in Surrey. Men of working age in the East End of London are twice as likely to die from heart disease as men in Surrey. That's why this new Labour Government has made a start on a 20 year programme of action to reduce inequalities and improve health.

Targeting effort and resources on the families and neighbourhoods most in need.

Health Action Zones, targeted on deprived areas. Health Improvement Programmes for every part of the country. Sure Start for infants. Healthy Schools for Children. Healthy Workplaces for adults. New jobs through the New Deal. A national minimum wage and a working families tax credit. More money for new homes.

All these investments will help reduce the inequalities in health that mar our society - inequalities the Tories denied even existed.

And we are taking one very special step to protect the health of every child in this land. From December this year tobacco advertising will be banned. That will bring most benefit to the most deprived children in the most deprived areas.

We all know that the pioneers of our party would have been proud of our NHS. A Health Service for the many not the few. Founded in 1948 by a Labour Government to provide the best health services for all. And founded in the teeth of opposition from the Tory party and the Tory press.

They never really accepted the NHS, that's why they spend all their time running it down and dreaming up ways to privatise it.

And if you don't believe that - look what they did to NHS dentistry. They never announced it would disappear. They were too devious for that. They just encouraged it to disappear.

And as Tony Blair made clear on Tuesday, we're going to do something about it.

Our 30 new 'phone and go' dental services will start to restore NHS dentistry

So the difference between us and the Tories on health is clear.

They want a safety net. We want a universal service.

They say privatise. We say modernise.

They say no NHS. We say a new NHS.

A one-nation health service. Superior in principle. Successful in practice. Funded by all. Supported by all. Used by all.

Of course the NHS must change to meet the changing needs of the people and to make best use of the newest treatments.

That's why we reject conservatism about the NHS. Both the conservatism of those who want to scrap it. And the conservatism of those who want to fossilise it.

Two years into Government, it would be silly to claim the NHS has been transformed. But we have stopped the rot. The new foundations are being laid. And we have made clear the direction we intend to go.

What last year were plans are this year a reality.

Anne and Lesley who just spoke are part of that reality.

NHS Direct, our 24-hour nurse helpline, now covering 40% of the country [slide1]

By Christmas, 60% of the country will be covered - that's 30 million people. [slide 2]

So don't let the Tories claim the NHS isn't improving. That it can't keep up.

Next year the whole country gets NHS Direct.

That will make England the first country in the world to have such a service nationwide. [slide 3].

And that's not the only modern first for the NHS. This winter the NHS will be the world's first health service - indeed the world's only - health service capable of providing the new meningitis vaccine to the groups most at risk.

We will provide new buildings, plant and equipment, introduce new ways of working and make life better for staff.

Every accident and emergency unit that needs it is being modernised to make them better for patients and safer for staff. [slide 4]

1,000 GP premises are being upgraded. [slide 5]

The two tier market system which set doctor against doctor and hospital against hospital - scrapped. And in its place, doctors and nurses working together - doctors and nurses in the driving seat.

And then there's 37 new hospitals - the biggest hospital building programme in the history of the NHS - with 18 already being built - from Carlisle to Dartford, Hereford to Sheffield -. [slide 6]

But, of course, this is only a start - immediate action to deal with the most pressing problems.

Today on the eve of the new Millennium I want to set out our 10-year programme to modernise the NHS so we, and our children and grandchildren can depend on it for the next century.

Our programme will get the funding in; make services more convenient; raise standards; help people safeguard their own health; and reward and empower NHS staff.

On funding. Our first two years were tight. And remember it's only since April this year that the extra 21 billion is coming on stream. The Tories nationally said that our 21 billion commitment was "reckless" - then they have the cheek to demand more cash for their areas.

And if the Liberals try to criticise - just remind people we have already put in more money than the Liberal manifesto even asked for for the whole Parliament.

But everyone knows there is more to do. That's why the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that because of the success of Gordon Brown's economic strategy we will continue to get more money into hospitals in a way we can sustain year on year. An end to boom and bust in the health service. A growing economy for a growing NHS.

But it's not just about money. It's about change and improvement. People in this country are impatient for improvement. So too are health service staff.

So its right that we're negotiating a fairer and more modern pay system for everyone.

It's right that junior doctors hours are coming down, and that the number of recruits to medical school is being raised by 20 per cent.

It's right that from now on, ancillary services will not be automatically included in PFI contracts.

It's right that nurses and midwives this year got their biggest national pay rise for a decade.

It's right that two thirds of full time qualified nurses now earn over 20,000 pounds a year.

It's right that nurse education should be overhauled, so today I am announcing new arrangements for training nurses that are more practical and more flexible.

And it's right that today I can announce that the new top rate of pay for nurses and midwives is up from less than 30,000 pounds to a new high of 42,000 pounds.

It's right - because we must modernise NHS staffing in order to modernise NHS services.

People will understand that many of these improvements will take time because it takes 5 years to train a doctor, 4 years to train a pharmacist, and 3 years to train a nurse or midwife.

We need a health service that is fast and convenient. That is modern and dependable. Where patients have easy access to the best quality care. At a time and in a way that suits them and their families.

We are setting new, tough and explicit standards to guarantee everybody everywhere gets top quality care.

That's why we've set up the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to advise on best drugs and treatments and help end postcode prescribing.

That's why we're setting up the new Commission for Health Improvement to ensure every part of the health service is up to scratch.

And we're cutting waiting times and waiting lists - down over 200,000 in a year, and now over 60,000 lower than when we got in.

It's why the Prime Minister announced airline style booking systems for cancer and cataract services. With 14 million people to benefit.

We have sorted out the shambles that the Tories made of the cervical and breast cancer screening programme. New standards have been set, new standards are being met and women - nearly all women suspected of breast cancer - are now getting urgent diagnosis within 2 weeks.

And that's one reason why last week we did what the people wanted us to do with the people's money - we put lottery money into the fight against cancer.

Last week we announced where 70 million pounds of lottery money would be invested to provide modern additional and replacement equipment for screening and treating cancer.

Today I am announcing details of a further 23 million pounds from the lottery for 15 new scanners and 9 new linear accelerators. Together this 93 million pounds investment will make sure patients are diagnosed and treated promptly and effectively. It is the biggest one-off investment in cancer services the NHS has ever seen. Every cancer centre in the country will get new equipment.

And it's not just cancer.

Mental health problems affect one-in-six people. But mental health services haven't had the attention they deserve. They will from now on.

Today I am publishing the first ever national standards for mental health services. The Mental Health National Service Framework. It spells out the range of services that should be provided in each part of the country, what standards should be set and how they will be met.

This framework will be followed shortly by similar blueprints for heart disease, then the care of older people, then diabetes. Step by step we will modernise treatment standards for every major condition - until we have modernised the whole of the NHS.

I do understand the frustrations of people who want to be treated better and treated faster in a modernised health service fit for our age. But we have now begun and we are committed to doing more.

So I say to everyone here today and everyone watching, don't judge the NHS by what the newspapers, the TV and the radio say. Judge the health service by what it provides for you and your family when you need it. How is it for you? That's the question.

And the answer from most people is that the NHS did a good job for them.

That's right and that's why the NHS is popular. Popular with all decent people wherever they live and whatever they do. Popular because like you and I, they want everyone to be healthy - every child to have a good start in life. Most decent people like the idea that the NHS is there for them. They also like the idea it's there for everyone else. They want a health service for the many not the few. They want to keep our health service and they want to modernise it. And under Tony Blair's leadership, that is what we'll do.

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