Gordon Brown hailed the NHS as "the best insurance policy in the world" today as he promised even better services for the future.
Addressing the Royal College of Nursing in Bournemouth, the Prime Minister re-committed himself to a service free at the point of use.
And he repeatedly thanked nurses for the work they put in, describing them as "the greatest force for compassion our country has ever seen".
Mr Brown said that because Britain did not have to rely on private health insurance, people knew that when they were sick they could receive treatment free of charge.
"That is why, there for everyone who needs it, the NHS is in my view the best insurance policy in the world.
"I'm here to say to you today, I'm determined to work with you day by day, week by week, month after month, year after year, to make the NHS even better."
Mr Brown told RCN members their service was the "soul of the health service", adding: "I'm here with Sarah to say from the bottom of my heart, words not always associated with politicians, but the two most important words in the English language: thank you.
"Thank you for the service you give, for the work you do, the contribution you render and the differences you make."
He said barely a family in the country did not depend on the NHS for their care and Labour's commitment was to a "service free for all - no ifs, no buts, no maybes about it".
The number of nurses had risen by 80,000 since 1997 to almost 500,000.
"You're now the largest nursing profession in the history of our country and you are the greatest force for compassion our country has ever seen."
In other countries people had to "fear the costs" and could not afford the treatments.
But in Britain, with treatment "free at the point of need", people knew the NHS was there for them when they needed it.
Mr Brown recalled the death of his daughter Jennifer, who died in 2002 aged 10 days after suffering a brain haemorrhage.
He said of the care she received: "We feel like parents who have been in the presence of angels dressed in nurses' uniforms, performing the most amazing works of mercy and care.
"I will never forget seeing in real time every minute of the day that idea of service and selflessness summed up by the great poet William Blake: 'Can I not see another's woe and not be in sorrow too?
"Can I see another's grief and not seek for kind relief?' That is the spirit of nursing.
"And so I see my mission in government as to support your mission in the wards. This is who I am - my passion is to support your compassion, improving the NHS every year makes the job I do worth doing.
"For I know the NHS will be safe for our nation and safe for our children only as long as with the investment you receive and the support you are given, you can say as nurses that the NHS is safe in your hands."
Labour today also launched its health manifesto, reiterating a number of guarantees to patients on waiting times, cancer specialist appointments and access to GPs.
It also pledges to give patients more access to treatments - such as dialysis, chemotherapy and palliative care - in their own homes where appropriate, and reaffirms plans for a National Care Service.
The manifesto warns: "The Tory risk of a return to long waits, as the NHS abandons all guarantees, targets and national standards, is very real.
"Their plan for 'do it yourself' public services in the NHS would mean no maximum waiting times, no power for GPs to demand that patients be seen within a maximum waiting period, no point at which the private sector must step in if the NHS cannot deliver your entitlements."
In an introduction to the document, Mr Brown said an ageing society and the rise of so-called "lifestyle diseases" meant healthcare would need to focus more on tackling problems early.
"In the NHS of the next decade, real power must lie in the hands of patients, not the bureaucracy, and the NHS must focus far more than it has in the past on prevention and early intervention," the Prime Minister wrote.
"No longer can we sustain the approach of patients as the passive recipients of services.
"Increasingly patients and their families and carers must be seen as active partners in their care with enforceable guarantees, real choice and control over services.
"So Labour will fight for a better NHS - for an NHS on the side of the patient, not the system. This is Labour's personal NHS guarantee to you."
Mr Brown said that as Chancellor he had doubled investment in the NHS and he would ensure that from 2011 the NHS would "do even better".
He added: "The very existence of the NHS has taught us that we should never accept that the status quo is the final word.
"We should never resign ourselves to injustice as a permanent and unalterable condition.
"We should never believe where we stand today is as a determinant of what we are capable of tomorrow.
"Never accept that there is an immovable fate that imprisons our future because what the NHS proves is that it is what we do ourselves and not just for ourselves that really matters.
"The achievement of the NHS teaches us something even bigger, that the truest measure of the character of society is not the size of its wealth, but the width of its generosity, the breadth of its humanity and the depth of its compassion."
Mr Brown went on: "When we rightly talk of the future of the NHS as more personal care, we mean more focus on nursing. When we rightly talk of the future of the NHS as more care in people's own homes, we mean more attention to nursing.
"When we rightly talk of the future of the NHS as offering preventive treatment, that means more of a role for nursing.
"When we rightly talk of the future of the NHS in social care for the elderly, that means more need for nursing.
"When we talk of the NHS as more than a universal service but also a personal service meeting more individualised needs too, we mean more power for nursing.
"So what we are talking about is the nursing profession rightly taking more day to day control of our NHS.
"So just as the NHS tackled infections in the NHS, with more matrons, with more control for ward sisters, we know that with more power for nurses to report directly to boards, that whenever and wherever we give nurses real control, real influence, you have been the force for progress and for the better, safer, more patient-focused NHS we are creating.
"And today, because of your skills, nurses are undertaking work unimaginable even a few years ago.
"So I conclude that we need more specialist nurses, not fewer.
"We need to invest not only in developing your skills but in ensuring you have greater autonomy in making referrals, prescribing and work to extend the nurse consultants, the nurse practitioners, the nurse specialists and we now have and we need to support you financially.
"That means protecting and in fact growing frontline investment in the NHS, making efficiencies, and cutting management costs by a third, but reinvesting these savings in frontline care."Reuse content