Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled the "NHS Mandate", a document setting out goals on improving healthcare in England that he hopes will "reduce avoidable mortality rates for the major killer diseases".
In a Commons statement on 13 November 2012, Mr Hunt said the mandate set out his priorities for the NHS Commissioning Board, a new body which will supervise GP-led commissioning groups as they take charge of much of the NHS budget in England.
"If our mortality rates were level with the best in Europe we could save as many 20,000 lives every year, 20,000 personal tragedies that could be avoided but are not," he said.
"The mandate asks the board to make measurable progress to improve early diagnosis, giving more people quicker access to the right drugs and treatment where they need it," Mr Hunt added.
The health secretary said the mandate should also:
• make it easier for patients to contact their local GP, for example via email
• enable patients to renew prescriptions online
• ensure that every pregnant woman saw the same midwife throughout their contact with the healthcare system, in an effort to improve the diagnosis of post-natal depression
• ask patients whether they would recommend the service they had received to relatives and friends
• improve its care for vulnerable patients.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said it was an "impressive wishlist", but questioned how it could be achieved when "61,000 jobs have been lost in the NHS or are at risk".
"The statement he has just made is dangerously at odds with the reality on the ground and risks raising unrealistic expectations. Across England services are under severe pressure, ambulances queuing outside A&E, patients left on trolleys in corridors for hours on end, increasing numbers of A&E and ward closures," he said.
"It is no wonder that nurses' leaders today warned, and I quote: 'The NHS is sleep-walking into a crisis' and to listen to him it is as if none of this is happening - a toxic mix of reorganisation and real-terms cuts is plunging the NHS into a tailspin."