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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Alan Johnson's speech in full
Here is the full text of Health Secretary Alan Johnson's speech to the Labour Party conference.

I am going to be joined on the platform later by my ministerial team: Ben Bradshaw, Dawn Primarolo, Ivan Lewis, Ann Keen and Ara Darzi.

Apart from Ivan we are all new to this department. Indeed Dawn Primarolo came to health after being incarcerated in the Treasury for 10 years, which is why we say that this is the era of a new Dawn.

Professor Ara Darzi, who will be making a presentation later, is one of the world's leading surgeons - the man who pioneered keyhole and robotic surgery. He will continue to see patients free of charge for two days a week.

And for the rest of his time we're fortunate to have him as a Labour government minister.

Whilst the Conservatives always had ministers who could stitch you up, we've got one who can cut you open as well.

Nothing better encapsulates the values of our party than the National Health Service.

It emerged from a sense of national solidarity.

It developed as a testament to what can be achieved when radical thinking is combined with political courage.

No single institution has done more to promote social justice in the past or possesses greater potential to transform our society in the future.

In 1997 the NHS required intensive care.

The ten years since has seen greater investment, more staff, reduced waiting times, new hospitals and radically improved survival rates, particularly in cancer and cardio-vascular disease.

It's a proud record but I want to talk about the decade to come rather than the one that's gone. The public doesn't view history in neatly divided chunks, defined by which party was in government.

Whilst they will remember the trauma of long waiting times, shabby buildings and a crisis every winter in the Tory years, it's a fading memory, and their concerns are about the future.

Having increased the capacity of the NHS, we can now concentrate remorselessly on quality, access and safety creating a higher standard of personal service to meet the higher aspirations of the public; moving away from top-down structural change in order that we can dedicate all our efforts to better patient care.

We are harnessing advances in technology, in science and in medicine to the cause of constantly improving health care for all our citizens.

Eight years ago the NHS performed 17,000 angioplasties, a procedure to widen blood vessels for patients suffering from heart problems.

Last year the figure was 55,000, a 3-fold increase. This has significantly reduced the length of stay in hospitals for patients who would otherwise have had a much more complicated operation.

Gordon and I have launched the Next Stage Review of the NHS to ensure that everyone involved in the health service can discuss how to build on the last ten years of investment and reform.

The review will focus on how we continue to deliver improvements across the service by re-engaging and working in partnership with patients, doctors, nurses and other practitioners.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to shape an NHS which is clinically-led and locally-driven, constantly focused on a personalised service for the patient.

Centralising care where necessary, for instance for stroke and cancer patients. But localising where possible, so that patients can be treated closer to home.

To achieve this, government needs to get behind health staff, not stand in their way. Their public service ethos is the life force of the National Health Service.

The expertise and experience of midwives, for instance, can be utilised far more effectively. Let's be clear: our shared vision for maternity services will require more midwives.

We have initially planned an extra 1000 by 2009. If birth rates continue to rise we will need to train more. And we will need more specialist nurses and health visitors to tackle public health issues in deprived communities.

We know there is no more important resource for the NHS than the staff who work for it. But too many suffer harassment, intimidation and violence.

To give greater protection we will issue personal safety alarms to those NHS staff who need them, as part of a 97 million boost to the NHS security budget. This will ensure that we have better security in hospitals and that we improve the training we give to staff to deal with aggressive behaviour.

I can also announce today that this money will allow us to increase the number of prosecutions against those who assault staff.

Anybody who abuses our staff must face tough action and the possibility of jail.

Too many patients feel insecure in hospital because of their fear of infection. Hospital-acquired infections are a global problem. We're making real progress against MRSA but the war against another infection, C-difficile, must be intensified.

In each hospital, Matrons and nurses will be empowered and encouraged to use their expertise to fight infection on the front line.

Yesterday Gordon announced a number of further practical measures to help tackle the problem.

Today I am setting out how we will equip the new regulator with tougher powers, backed by fines, to inspect, investigate and intervene where hospitals are failing to meet hygiene standards. And this tough regime will not just apply across the NHS but in the private sector as well.

To ensure patients' safety I want a regulator with the power to close, clean and then re-open wards if necessary.

The NHS has made healthcare accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or income, but unacceptable inequalities remain.

A woman from the poorest social class is 19 times more likely to die in childbirth than someone from the richest.

A man living in Manchester is likely to die nine years earlier than a man living in Kensington and Chelsea.

There can be no more chilling example of inequality than someone's place of birth determining the timing of their death.

Tackling these inequalities is my priority for the NHS and over the coming months I will set out plans to fight these injustices.

We need more GPs in our most deprived communities. Not just curing illness but working with other healthcare professionals on prevention as well.

GP surgeries should be open at times and in locations that suit the patient, not the practice.

Pharmacies, sports centres and high street walk-in centres can do much more to provide primary care effectively and conveniently.

The radical steps we have taken on smoking must now be matched by faster progress on tackling obesity in children and adults.

And we need a new deal for carers and a fresh approach on mental health - restoring dignity and security to the most vulnerable in our society.

All of this requires change. As Nye Bevan said when the NHS was created, "the service must always be changing, growing and improving. It must always appear inadequate."

While we champion clinical change, the Tories oppose it. Nothing illustrates more clearly how unfit to govern the Conservative party has become.

Their shabby and dishonest campaign for a moratorium on saving lives demeans those who promote it. It also betrays the doctors and consultants who propose such change in the interests of their patients.

The Tories aren't the future of the National Health Service, they're still catching up with the past. They say they support the NHS, having opposed its creation vehemently sixty years ago.

And they say they are committed to the additional funding that they voted against just three years ago.

At the last election they proposed that NHS money should fund people to go private.

At worst they are regressive; at best they are a major risk.

The baby boomer generation were fortunate to be the first to be born into the NHS. Now they are the generation that will test the capacity of the service to deal with a healthier population living longer lives.

It was this party's vision of a better future that created a comprehensive, universal service, free at the point of need.

It will be this party that presides over its continued renaissance, and it will be this party, led by Gordon Brown, that continues to build an NHS fit for the 21st Century.



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