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David Cameron: I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS

David Cameron sets out his agenda for healthcare as he launches the Conservative Party's draft health manifesto.

The Conservative Party leader was speaking at the unveiling of a national poster campaign on the NHS.

"On Saturday I set out our argument for the election that will be held this year.

We want to make this the year for change.

We can't go on like this, and we need change to get the country back on its feet - change based on the values of responsibility and aspiration.

We can’t go on with the same irresponsible economic policies that failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining and gave us the biggest boom, the biggest bust and now threatens our recovery with higher debts, higher instability, higher taxes, higher interest rates and higher unemployment.

We can’t go on with an old-fashioned left-wing class war on aspiration from a government that has seen the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

We can’t go on with the old style of politics that divides our country instead of uniting it.

We can’t go on with Labour's bureaucracy, running everything from Whitehall, denying people control over their lives and undermining the professionals in our public services.

We can’t go on in these difficult times with a weak Prime Minister and a divided government. We can’t go on with another five years of Gordon Brown. We can't go on like this.

We need change to get the country back on its feet. A better NHS; an aspirational economy; a big society; a new politics. If we make these changes, then this country will have a great progressive future. A future that is fairer, safer, greener - and where opportunity is more equal.

Today we kick-start our campaign to make that vision a reality. We’re publishing the first chapter of our draft manifesto. Yes, it’s a draft manifesto – because this is still an open document, open to the ideas of the millions of people it will affect. All our policies and plans are going to be published online, on the Conservative website, for everyone to have a look at. We’re then asking people to get involved and have their say on the changes they want to see.

PARTY OF THE NHS

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be publishing this draft manifesto chapter by chapter. And today, we’re going to start with our number one priority. It was our number one priority four years ago when I became leader of the Conservative Party - and has remained so ever since. It’s only three letters long but in it lies the hopes of millions in our country: the NHS.

NHS SPENDING

Today, the Conservatives are the party of the NHS. But talk is cheap. You’ve got to back that with action. And we have.

We are the only party committed to protecting NHS spending. It’s there in black and white behind me. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.

And don’t for one minute buy the Labour claim that they’ll do the same. They won’t – and their own figures show they won’t. Unlike us, they have not committed to protecting areas of the health budget such as public health and capital investment.

NHS REFORM

And here’s another big difference between us and Labour. We’re not just going to pump money in and hope for the best. We’re going to change the way the NHS works because it could be so much better.

Under Labour, the NHS has turned into a giant machine, controlled from above, responding to politicians, bureaucrats and managers. If we win this year's election, Andrew Lansley and his team are going to give the NHS back to who it belongs - the people. To the doctors, nurses and professionals who work in it. To the patients who get their care from it. To the families who depend on it.

Every policy we put forward, every reform we implement, every change we make will have at its heart this simple idea – we need to give the NHS back to the people. We’ll say to doctors and nurses: "those national top-down targets you hate because they distort clinical priorities, they’re gone. Instead of answering to the people in Whitehall, you’ll be answering to the people on the ward, for the quality of service you provide and the results you achieve."

It’s the patients who’ll have the power in our NHS. You’ll be able to check your health records online in the same way you do your bank account. You’ll have a relationship with a local, family doctor who you can see at a time that suits you. You’ll have a real choice about where you get treated.

You’ll have information about how good different doctors are, how good different hospitals are, information about the things that really matter, like cancer survival rates, the rate of hospital infections, your chances of going home to live independently if you have a stroke.

Our changes will create more choice. Drive up standards. And make our NHS better for everyone. And as Andrew Lansley will explain, today we are announcing two specific new plans which show our commitment to improving the NHS for everyone.

HEALTH PREMIUM

The first deals with one of the most unjust, unfair and frankly shocking things about life in Britain today and that is the gap in health between the richest and poorest in our country.

Labour promised they’d do something about this. In 2003, they said they would reduce the gap in life expectancy and infant mortality between the richest and poorest in our country by ten percent by 2010.

So now’s a good time to judge them. And the verdict’s not good. The gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest has increased. The gap in infant mortality between the richest and poorest households has increased. Health inequalities in 21st century Britain are as wide as they were in Victorian times. We can't go on like this.

If the NHS is not working for the poorest in our society, then it’s doing a poor job. That’s why we’re going to introduce a health premium that targets resources on the poorest areas so we banish health inequalities to history. With our plans, the poorer the area, the worse the health outcomes tend to be, so the more money they can get.

But instead of Whitehall telling them how to spend this money, local people will decide. Local councils and Directors of Public Health will be able to use these budgets as they see fit – and will get more money if they deliver better results. The health premium will mark a significant shift in the way money is allocated in the public health budget. As with our pupil premium in education where more money will follow the poorest pupils, it will focus resources on those who need the most help.

That’s what I mean when I say we will return the NHS to the people.

MATERNITY NETWORKS

The second policy we are announcing today deals with an area that desperately needs attention - NHS maternity services. It doesn’t matter that billions of women have given birth over the ages, for parents having a baby – especially your first baby – can be one of life’s most daunting experiences.

And all of us want the same thing. As many mums as possible giving birth in a relaxed, non-emergency, maternity-led setting with all the facilities for intensive help there for those who need them.

But the Government has just been re-organising on high, giving us bigger and bigger baby factories where mothers can feel neglected with some even being turned away on the doorstep – while they’re in labour.

Parents in many parts of Europe have a system that is more personal and more local – with more choice. And they also have lower rates of infant mortality. Why can’t our parents have the same? With our maternity networks, they will.

These will bring together, in one network, under one organisational structure, all the maternity services in one area a mother may need. Local hospitals, GPs, charities, community groups and maternity consultants will all be linked up so that they can share information, expertise and services.

There will be clinical benefits – as the more professionals communicate across the network, the more consistent the medical practice will become and the higher the standards will be. And there will be social benefits – as these networks will function as a meeting place for mothers as well as professionals. That’s what I mean when I say we will return the NHS to the people.

CONCLUSION

All these plans for our health service – from scrapping top-down targets and publishing health outcomes to health premiums and maternity networks – fit into our wider vision for the country.

You can see the common Conservative threads running through them. Giving people more power over the most important things in life. Encouraging responsibility. Strengthening communities.

Remembering that when it comes to our public services – protecting them and investing in them, we are all in this together. We will cut the deficit, not the NHS because the NHS is the bedrock of a fair society. And we will bring change to our NHS because as in so many other ways, we can't go on like this.

Let's make this the year for change."

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