I have spent seven and a half years learning about the NHS, talking to people who work in it and understanding how it works.
There are few things as precious as the NHS, and the principle it is based upon – a universal service, free at the point of use – is one I am committed to. But I also want to ensure that our health service achieves excellent results for patients, as good as anywhere in the world.
Last week, I received the report from the independent NHS Future Forum, a group of experts with decades of experience of the health service who were asked to assess our plans for modernising the NHS.
They said clearly that the NHS cannot stand still – it must change to meet the challenges of the future. It must also constantly strive to improve quality and safety for patients.
We accepted all the core recommendations, which demonstrates our commitment to engage patients and staff in improving our proposals. As a result, we have strengthened our plans and have a clear consensus on how to realise our vision of a health service where patients are at the centre of every decision.
We listened to concerns that there could be a "market free-for-all" in the NHS. This was never our intention, so we are making it clear that the health regulator's core role is to protect and promote patients' interests, not competition for its own sake.
We listened to calls for more nurses and specialist hospital doctors to be on local groups who commission local services. So we are widening the range of experts that will be given the power to make decisions on services for their local community.
We listened to concerns about private companies "cherry-picking" the most profitable work and about "privatisation through the back door". We were always clear we would not let this happen, so we are introducing new safeguards to stop this. Competition based on quality, not price, will drive improvements for patients. And we will never privatise the NHS.
We listened to the advice of health experts and patients, and we are improving our plans. This listening exercise has been hugely valuable. We are now in a stronger position to deliver our vision of an NHS free from needless bureaucracy, where doctors and nurses have freedom to shape local services; and where patients are in control of their care: "No decision about me, without me."
It was right to pause and reflect, but I appreciate this will have caused some uncertainty, particularly for the 1.4 million NHS staff. As we move forward, I want to take with us the doctors and nurses who are central to our plans.
This week I will set out further details of the changes we will make. I expect to bring forward more than 150 amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill. These will deliver stronger benefits for patients and will reinforce the principles of NHS modernisation: shared decision-making with patients, a relentless focus on quality and outcomes, clinical leadership, and accountability.
I am determined to see these plans through to secure a sustainable health service for generations to come. This process has at times been difficult – modernising an organisation as large as the NHS always is – but this is what I am in politics to achieve.
Now it is time to move forward. I think, in years to come, people will see this as a key moment – when, with the guidance of medical experts, we put the NHS on the road to success.
Andrew Lansley is Secretary of State for Health
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