Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2005
"You can relax. This isn't a leadership bid.
I'm going to break with precedent and talk about the issue for which I am responsible: health. It's my responsibility and my priority and we have heard important contributions about the state of our health services.
We've heard from people telling it like it is about the NHS.
Patients, nurses, doctors. Saying what's right and what's wrong about our health service today. Honest and realistic.
How unlike Labour. They won't hear or listen to dissent - unless it's from trade union barons carrying card votes.
The only interests we serve are those of the patients and the dedicated staff who work in our health services.
During the general Election we stood up for them.
For doctors, fed up with Government targets, distorting care, controlling how they manage their patients.
For nurses, fed up with bureaucracy which means that money for the NHS doesn't get through to the front-line care they give to patients.
For patients - we stood up for them - who were deeply anxious that they would contract infections if they go into hospital.We care about all of them and will continue to stand up for them and their needs.
And at the General Election, we fought head to head with Labour.
Now, John Reid - he used to be Labour's Health Secretary. Before the election, he said he looked forward to the debate. But, when it came to it, where was he? I went to the British Medical Association - no, not there. I went to the Kings Fund - wasn't there. I went to the Royal College of Nursing Congress - not there. I went to the Patient's Association - no sign of him. It says quite a bit about Labour, doesn't it? John Reid couldn't be bothered turning up to any of these debates.
For the first time in a generation, we put Labour on the defensive on their record on health: the bureaucracy, the interference with GPs, the effect of targets, the risk of infection.
We won the arguments on the NHS.
Little wonder, that since the Election, Labour are stealing our policies.
Now, they say more private sector capacity is required. Now they say, hidden waiting lists are denying patients the treatment they need. Now, they admit infections - and not just MRSA - are causing thousands of deaths. Now, the Prime Minister says there's nothing he can do to stop the crisis in NHS dentistry. And now, the truth comes out that hospitals across the country are in debt and now - now, after the election - that they are closing wards and laying off staff.
These are the issues we fought to expose during the General Election campaign. We fought for the NHS to have a better way: real increases in resources, which get to the front line. Less bureaucracy and more clinical leadership. Professionals set free from targets and bureaucracy. Cleaner hospitals, The return of GP fund-holding. More doctors and nurses. More children's hospitals. NHS dentistry brought back to the High Street. Real choice for patients and real freedom for NHS and independent hospitals to invest and improve services.
I am proud of the campaign we fought. I am proud of all of you, in the many constituencies I visited during the campaign because of how you were taking up the issues for local people. I am especially proud that many more NHS staff at this election voted Conservative.
I am proud of our team, who fought that campaign. My colleagues, before and since the Election. In the Commons, Simon Burns, Tim Loughton, John Baron and Andrew Murrison. Our whips, Crispin Blunt and John Randall. In the Lords, Freddie Howe, Ian McColl and Trish Morris. They are a fine team, who command respect across the health services for their commitment to health and their knowledge of their subjects.
The future of the NHS is our #1 issue. It has to be the #1 issue for our Party. It is the #1 issue for the British people.
Last week I opened the Congress of the Institute of Biomedical Scientists. I was joined by my father. Thirty five years ago, he was Chairman of that Institute. He worked in the NHS from 1948 to his retirement.
There are millions like him who give their professional lives to the NHS. Working in an NHS which is defined by its commitment to quality healthcare and the care of patients. I hear a lot of rhetoric about the importance of health. And a lot of it is that: rhetoric. Health is not just an issue, to be managed for electoral advantage. It is about people's lives, their well-being. Their fears and needs. We have to get health right, because otherwise we can't improve people's quality of life.
Labour have taken the NHS for granted. Eight years ago, we were told by Labour we could have it all: first-rate health services without paying more taxes. Five years ago Mr Blair said by 2008 we'd be spending as much on health as other countries in Europe. People thought he meant we'd have health services as good as any in Europe. We don't: Labour have spent, but not reformed - and not delivered.
Britain still lags desperately behind Europe. If only the mortality rates in the UK were equal to the best levels in Europe, 23,000 fewer people would die prematurely of cancer, 41,000 fewer people would die of heart disease, and 52,000 fewer people would die early of lung disease.
Whilst we are here this week, more than 2,000 people will die because our health service does not match the best in Europe.
This is what we are here to change. The debate this week isn't just about who is the leader, or just about how the Conservative Party should change. It is about how we, as a Party, can change Britain for the better. Of how people can live free of pain and disease. No needless waits, no needless pain; no needless deaths.
And a starting point is no waste. The productivity in the NHS has fallen each year since Labour came to power. If the NHS can't turn unprecedented resources into high quality healthcare the cost to the taxpayer will become unsustainable. While Labour are failing it is the staff of the NHS who bear the brunt and it is the patients who suffer.
The NHS can't afford to wait until 2009. It needs reform now. At the Election, we were ready to give it. Labour talk about reform, but they have no consistent plan. One initiative follows another, with NHS staff having no clear idea where the destination is. Most of all, Labour talk about choice but what they mean is choice for bureaucrats - not choice for patients.
Mr Blair talks about choice, but he's an actor and it's all show. Gordon Brown and the trades unions hate choice and competition.
We need to push now for genuine reform. People say, "it's too early to have policies". I say we have to have policies for the NHS now, because Labour won't deliver. We have to use our policy and influence to lever change now.
We have to build a consensus with those in the NHS - managers, doctors, nurses and patients, for the reforms that will enable the NHS to deliver. That is why I have put forward far-reaching ideas for reform.
We have to build a coalition for reform. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both split down the middle- both have supporters who condemn choice and competition, others who recognise it is essential. Neither have policies which will effectively deliver the quality patients seek.
We have to drive from opposition, 'an agenda for reform in the NHS' because it is now crystal clear that Labour's top-down target-driven approach has failed and their half-baked plans for choice and the use of the private sector are divisive and confused.
Let me tell you what is required:
· Cut NHS bureaucracy; get rid of targets.
· Give patients choice and more control over their care at every level. Choice for everyone, on equal terms. Choice through the NHS, not outside.
· Give the independent sector the right to supply to the NHS- Introduce genuine competition, not block Department of Health contracts for the private sector, while NHS hospitals lose out.
· Establish independent regulation of healthcare - open, transparent pro-competitive rules;
· Give GPs the budgets and responsibility for ensuring patients access to the care they need.
· Set out the clinical standards the NHS is committed to meet, and publish clear information on quality, on things like infection rates, so hospitals are held to account.
· Empower clinical networks for services like cancer care, coronary heart disease, stroke, mental health and emergency care, so they can direct new investment and pump-prime services to meet the NHS standards of care.
· Train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals- and ensure training posts for junior doctors, so they aren't unemployed.
· Bring in "Health Watch": a powerful, independent watchdog, accountable to the public, not the NHS, to be a voice for patients.
· Create an integrated public health service, capable of impacting locally and nationally on key issues like smoking, obesity and sexual health, which can act across public and private sectors and focus on preparedness for public health emergencies, like a potential avian flu pandemic.
We will continue to lead the debate on health. I don't believe there can be a need more pressing than this. It is deeply disturbing when senior and highly respected figures in the health service believe that the NHS will be unable to sustain its founding principles of comprehensive health care, available to all, free at the point of need, regardless of ability to pay. Yet this is part of the glue of our society.
When we look at America, despite their very high standards of healthcare for many, one despairs at the disparities in care between rich and poor. We can't go down that path. Yet that is where Labour are heading. Health inequalities are widening. Despite having some of the finest medicine in the world, the waste, the postcode lottery, the long waits for diagnosis, the distortion of clinical judgement to meet targets are all driving people - including doctors - out of the NHS.
Our answer cannot be to abandon the principle of an NHS which cares for everyone. The NHS has never really been given the chance to live up to its founding principles. When we pay through our taxes for the NHS, it is our right to receive entitlements to care, and it is our right to have the kinds of choice that today only money can buy. Patients at the centre of the health service.
I came into politics because I saw how Margaret Thatcher's Government created Britain's enterprise culture.
Twenty years on, we need to be the Party that will transform Britain's public services. Unlocking social enterprise to match the enterprise revolution of the 1980s in industry. Realising the benefits of competition and choice. This time, in the context of a commitment to equality of access to health and education, which gives people the sense of security and opportunity which can make everyone positive participants in our society. No-one left out; no-one left behind. Essential building blocks of a stronger society. Healthcare and education as new efficient, enterprising sectors of a free economy.
I have a vision for this in our health services. I want to realise that vision. We will push for reform now through our role in Opposition, but we will have to take up the task when we become the Party of power.
I want our Party, in the next few weeks to ensure that we are set on the path to success at the next General Election. I will use my vote with that single-minded objective. Not for short-term personal interests, not to satisfy personal prejudices, but to reach out to the voters who will make the difference. Millions of aspirational progressive voters, who want a Conservative Party which shares their view of the world, their values and ambitions, which is positive and forward-looking, whose priority is not to run Labour down, but to build Britain up.
People always say, "What does the Conservative Party stand for?" We have to tell them: The historic mission of the Conservative Party is to bring good government to this country, to improve the well-being of its people. Conservative principles of pragmatism, of family and nation, of concern for the needs of others, of free enterprise, and of freedom under the law. We
apply these principles in order to deliver the priorities of the people of Britain. A Conservative Party dedicated to their service. Not for selfish benefit, but for the service of all.
This is the positive vision we need for the future of Britain. We need voters to understand our values and appreciate our motivation. Without this, they will mistrust our policies, no matter how well thought out they are. Our next leader must be someone who can articulate such a positive vision. Optimistic. Hopeful. Based on opportunity as much as security. Freeing enterprise to create prosperity. Committed to quality healthcare for all. A public servant. This is the vision that can win. This is the Conservative Party of which I am proud to be part."