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Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 16:40 UK

Election: Brown pledges one week target for cancer test

Gordon Brown: "For those who are diagnosed with cancer we will invest in more specialist nursing"

No-one in England will wait more than one week for cancer test results under a future Labour government if they are re-elected, Gordon Brown has said.

Speaking to the Royal College of Nursing congress, the prime minister said too many people were waiting more than a month for their results.

Paying tribute to nurses, Mr Brown said they were the "soul of the NHS".

But the RCN's general secretary said afterwards that the prime minister was "in the dark" over job cuts in the NHS.

Mr Brown told the RCN's annual congress in Bournemouth health was "a fundamental human right" and the care and healing provided by nurses was "valued by all".

"British people know the NHS is there when we need it. When they are sick, they receive treatment free of charge.

"The NHS is the best insurance policy in the world," he said.

As Labour launched its health manifesto, including a number of guarantees on waiting times, cancer care and access to GP surgeries in England, the prime minister said he wanted to work with nurses to deliver them.

"I am not prepared to see removed the life-saving guarantee that a cancer patient will see a specialist within two weeks, and that if they need an operation it will be done well within the 18 weeks that is the maximum wait.

Improving the NHS every year makes my job worth doing
Gordon Brown

"And today, because too many currently wait more than a month for cancer tests, and because we know that with cancer speed is so important, we are publishing plans to ensure 1.5 million people will get their cancer tests more quickly and no-one will wait longer than a week.

"And for those who are diagnosed with cancer we will invest in more specialist nursing, so that everyone can have the reassurance of dedicated nursing."

But he added that no-one could talk about the future of the NHS without talking about the future of nursing.

Nurses were undertaking work "unimaginable" even a few years ago, Mr Brown said, with more specialist nurses and more autonomy in making referrals and prescribing.

Political speech

And he pledged to support nurses financially, while "growing front-line investment in the NHS".

The prime minister also said a future Labour government would invest in more specialist nursing care for the NHS in England, with more personal service for patients "at their most vulnerable", such as the elderly.

"My passion is to support your compassion," said Mr Brown.

"Improving the NHS every year makes my job worth doing."

Asked by an RCN delegate what commitment he would make to protect jobs in the NHS, Mr Brown defended his plan to raise National Insurance contributions by 1%.

"Raising National Insurance is a necessary means of paying for our public services," he said.

We will increase spending on the NHS every year and get more of that money to the frontline
Andrew Lansley
Shadow health secretary

The prime minister added it was necessary to "get the deficit down while maintaining and improving front-line services in health, schools and policing".

Saying he was trying not to make a political speech, the prime minister said he was "determined the recovery we have fought for is sustained".

"It's about making sure we have this recovery, because upon that, everything else depends", he said.

After the prime minister spoke, RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter said Mr Brown was "in the dark" about what was really happening in the NHS in England, in terms of cuts in posts.

While saying the Labour leader was a man of honesty and integrity, Dr Carter said Mr Brown did not understand what was going on on the ground in many areas.

The RCN says 5,000 NHS posts are earmarked for closure, and it feared more would be lost after the general election.

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley accused the government of planning "stealth cuts" to the NHS budget of up to £6bn.

"Patients will suffer under his plans because we know they will mean the loss of at least 2,000 nurses and 650 doctors," Mr Lansley said.

"Conservatives are the only party that has promised to protect the whole of the NHS budget.

"We will increase spending on the NHS every year and get more of that money to the frontline."

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