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Howard: Private and public sectors should work together to make waiting lists a thing of the past

Speech at the launch of Conservatives' Right to Choose policy on health

"Conservatives want a health care system that is comprehensive and available to all on the basis of need and not the ability to pay. These were the ideals upon which the NHS was founded almost sixty years ago. They are the ideals at the heart of the reforms that we are setting out today. Sadly, they are ideals that have been undermined by Labour.

In our National Health Service today, we rely more than ever on the hard work of doctors, nurses and consultants. They perform miracles every hour of every day. But everybody knows that the NHS is not as good as it could be. That's not their fault. It's the fault of the system. The NHS still reflects the assumptions of the immediate post-war era when resources were limited and rationed. Today, it is straining to cope. The NHS has to change.

After seven years of Labour - and record levels of spending - we still have a million people on NHS waiting lists. Average waiting times are up. Since 1997, the number of people forced to pay for private operations out of their savings has trebled. Half of them are pensioners. Deaths from super bugs have doubled. There are three new managers for every new doctor and two for every new nurse. Administration costs are up by £2 billion. Britain is now 18th out of 19 in the international health league table.

Labour said in 1997 that they had 24 hours to save the NHS. But the OECD says there has been no real improvement in health care under Labour.

Labour's approach has been tried and it has failed. Labour has spent without reform. And it is the very poorest in our society who are suffering the most.

We need a new approach.

Our policy, the Right to Choose, will transform our NHS. The Right to Choose is intrinsic to human dignity. It goes with the grain of human nature and the way our society works today. People want to make their own choices. They like to have control over the services they use.

Our policy will eradicate the inequalities that exist in our two-tier Health Service, where the rich get what they pay for and the poor have to shut up and take what they are given.

Our policy is based on what we have learned from visiting and talking to people all over Europe and the world about what works best in their countries. Our policy is working every day in countries all over the world - except Britain.

The Right to Choose will mean that, for the first time ever, patients will be able to choose the hospital that suits their particular needs best, rather than having to choose the hospital that suits the Government best.

The Right to Choose will mean that hospitals will have the freedom to determine their own future, to hire the people they want and to increase capacity to meet demand. We will scrap the central targets and initiatives that have done so much to undermine clinical judgements.

The Right to Choose will give people access to private healthcare - completely free of charge - if that is where they want to be treated and there is no extra cost to the taxpayer. We want the private and public sectors to work together to help the NHS.

We utterly reject the idea that political dogma or ideology should stand in the way of what works. If the private sector can help drive up standards, let's use it. If the private sector can relieve pressure on the NHS, let's use it. The public and private sectors can achieve more by working together than by working apart.

Our approach will mean that, at last, we can make waiting lists in this country a thing of the past. Waiting lists don't exist in countries like France and Sweden. Waiting lists are a British disease, and the Right to Choose is the cure.

Labour mouth the mantra of choice.

But what they mean is choice on their terms.

They will lie, lie and lie again about our policy.

But Labour do not own the freehold to this debate.

The Conservatives want to introduce real choice.

The kind of choice that will make the NHS a better place to work.

The kind of choice that will end waiting lists.

The kind of choice that today only people with money can buy.

The Conservatives will give people The Right to Choose."

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