The government should go "faster and further" in creating choice within the NHS, Tony Blair has told senior MPs.
The NHS had seen a 'quantum shift' since 1997, Mr Blair said
A "centrally driven approach", including national targets, had achieved a "quantum shift", he added.
The prime minister said: "My feeling at the moment is that, if you withdrew the central pressure, the system would start to retreat."
Mr Blair also told the Commons liaison committee that emergency wards were "significantly better" than in 1997.
The debate on the future of the NHS was echoed around the world, he said, adding: "The thing that comes out of all of them is how you get the most appropriate care in the most appropriate setting."
Mr Blair, asked if there was evidence that giving patients choice improved health outcomes, said a lot of the quality of healthcare, from patients' point of view, was "speed of access".
He was asked about proposed NHS patients database, with electronic patient records.
There would be proper safeguards, he said, but the benefits would be "immediate access" to information when someone is taken ill in a different part of the country from where they live, Mr Blair said.
"The average storecard has more information," he added.
The technology existed to "improve services" and it would be "bizarre" for ministers not to use it in the NHS when "in all other walks of life" it was used, he added.