The national plan for the NHS, which will be unveiled this week, will give patients a pivotal role in transforming the health service into an organisation fit for the 21st century, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has indicated.

The national plan for the NHS, which will be unveiled this week, will give patients a pivotal role in transforming the health service into an organisation fit for the 21st century, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has indicated.

A central theme of the 10-year blueprint for the health service's modernisation, which is due to see spending on the NHS rise by 6 per cent over the next four years, is expected to be 'Patient power'.

Details of the plan will be announced to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday, but a central plank is expected to be the instalment in hospitals of senior staff to pick up on patients' concerns and complaints, and secure urgent action.

Today Mr Milburn stressed that would be only one of a wide range of reforms that would have a fundamental impact on the way the health service works.

"Anybody who looks at the NHS will realise that overwhelmingly it is a 1940s system which is operating in a 21st century world and I think that explains, along with the underfunding that we have seen over very many decades, the real frustration that the doctors and the nurses and the other staff have," he said in a television interview.

Mr Blair, meanwhile, said his Government was committed to the principles underlying the NHS - but stressed it had to become more effective in meeting patients' needs if public support was to be maintained.

"I think that the blunt reality is that unless we can show the British people that by a combination of sustained extra investment ... plus reform to redesign the way that system works for the 21st century ... unless we can show people that this can work, well of course over time people will be less committed to the healthcare system that we have in this country."

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