At each of the last six conferences, I addressed you as Shadow Health Secretary. What a pleasure it is to address you today as Health Secretary. And it's my privilege too, to introduce to you the Government's new health team.
Simon Burns, Anne Milton, Freddie Howe. And also our valued Liberal Democrat colleague, Paul Burstow, who has assured me that the Department of Health would be safe in his hands while we were away.
Together, we are pressing forward the health and social care reforms our country needs, with real purpose and pace.
We won't make Labour's mistakes.
It took Labour three years, after 1997, just to publish a plan about what they wanted to do in the NHS.
Even then, there was no coherence; no consistency.
There was no unity of purpose: a divided government, which picked up the baton of reform, but dropped it as soon as it got hot.
We want people to be clear that this is a government that's serious about real reform:
We have already published comprehensive plans setting out our ambitious vision to improve the NHS - none of Labour's delays and procrastination;
We intend to drive forward reform of our public services as a united government - together, in the national interest
I think many of you already know how passionate we are here to improve public services.
I come from a public service family.
My father worked in the NHS.
My eldest brother, was a teacher.
My other brother, a police officer.
And me, first a civil servant, more recently in Parliament- I've spent two thirds of my working life in public service.
I care about public services - and that is why I know they need to change. To be genuinely responsive to the people they serve - not the politicians and civil servants in Whitehall.
The NHS is a great national institution . It embodies the values of a society in which we care about each other; not just about ourselves.
A society with the values of: Freedom, Fairness; and, Responsibility.
We know the extraordinary commitment of the staff who work in the NHS. We have all seen it. I have the privilege of seeing it every week.
I saw a premature baby earlier this year, at Southampton General, in an incubator, being fed her mother's milk through a tube. She had a better chance of surviving, thanks to the expert professionals on hand.
I met a teenage cancer patient in Leeds in May, receiving specialist care in a cancer ward that, with the help of a charity, had been designed with flair to make teenagers feel at home.
And a man I met in Basingstoke in July who'd had a frightening and rare cancer. He told me his story. A decade ago, he would have died but the innovation and life-saving care he received now gave him hope for his future.
Just a handful of examples from the millions of people whom the NHS takes care of every week.
And do you know what? Not one of them insecure because they couldn't afford treatment.
And we as a party have always supported the NHS, free at the point of use, based on need, not ability to pay.
And we do so again today. Committed to the NHS. An historic commitment to increase NHS resources in real terms each year, despite the dreadful debts we inherited.
We will not make the sick pay for Labour's debt crisis.
But because we have made our commitment to the NHS, that doesn't mean we sit back and put more of taxpayer's money into an unreformed system.
Labour's debt crisis means we must look carefully at all our public services.
To ensure they are delivering value for money;
To give the public what they expect from the services they pay for; and
To equip Britain for the challenges we will face in the future
Labour claimed to modernise the NHS.
They said they'd get rid of mixed-sex accommodation. But they didn't. This year alone, tens of thousands of patients denied this basic dignity.
They said everyone should get NHS dentistry. But a million lost it and millions now don't even try for an NHS dentist.
They said they'd rebuild the NHS. But they left us to pick up the bill. £50 billion of outstanding PFI pyaments. A £4 billion backlog of maintenance.
What a legacy.
If we change nothing, nothing will change. But change is needed.
When not one area of this country achieves cancer survival rates equal to the best in Europe, change is needed.
When the number of managers was rising at six times the rate of nurses, when administration costs increased under the last year of Labour by £346 million, and when consultancy costs increased by 80% in just the last two years, then change is needed.
When health inequalities have widened - and men in different parts of Birmingham have a ten-year gap in life expectancy.
The question isn't whether we change.
It's what kind of change we need.
Why we are making the reforms
Four years ago, at our conference, David Cameron spelt out his priority in three letters: N.H.S. And that is the Coalition Government's priority today: to transform the NHS into one of the great health systems of the world. True to its values, but fit for the future.
A modern NHS.
A truly patient-centred service, focussed on delivering results for patients and the best outcomes, using the best practice and best technology.
That is why we are proposing ambitious reforms:
To give doctors and nurses, rather than administrators, the power and responsibility to improve the quality of service they provide, and the budgets they use in providing it;
To make sure services which fail patients have nowhere to hide; and
To ensure the NHS delivers the quality of care that we expect from the resources we are committing to it.
And together, drawing on the consultation we are running, we won't delay or dither in taking action.
Our reforms will mean:
giving family doctors control over the budgets which are used to care for the patients they see - because family doctors see patients every day, they know where services are failing, and they will fight for the best care possible for their patients.
Rewarding those hospitals and services which care for patients the best , and we are giving them the freedoms to expand and grow - and deliver better services to even more patients
And, giving patients choice - and not just choice of a hospital. We are giving patients the right to choose their doctor, and their treatment, anywhere which meets the standards of the NHS and costs the same as NHS prices or less. That means any social enterprise, charitable organisation, public or independent provider - the right to choose where to be treated at any provider in what will become the largest social enterprise in the world.
But choice without information is no choice at all -
That is why we will unleash an information revolution throughout the health and social care services.
Because, armed with the right information, patients themselves will drive up standards in the NHS - as they vote with their feet for the services which are succeeding.
Because I simply don't believe that if there was more information about the quality of care, the scandalous failings that took place in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and then at Mid Staffordshire, could have gone unchallenged for so long.
It means we at last create an NHS where patients, not politicians, are put in the driving seat; a service which means, for patients, "no decision about me, without me".
We have already started to publish weekly MRSA and C-difficile data. And that is why I can today announce that, from next year, we will extend surveillance of hospital-acquired infections even further because patients must expect to be kept safe from harm in hospital.
These are practical measures which we are already making a reality. They are the principles on which a modern NHS should be built. And by recasting the NHS on these principles, we can sweep away all that top-down bureaucracy that prevents doctors and nurses making the best decisions for their patients.
-Out go all the unjustifiable government targets which made doctors and nurses - who just want to care for patients - dance to the Whitehall tune.
Out go two whole tiers of state-led management and oversight, reducing management costs by £850m by 2013/14.
And out go half of the health quangos.
When I stood before you this time last year, I said that I would cut NHS management costs by a third. I meant it.
So one of the first things I did as Health Secretary was to ask the NHS to cut management costs, not by a third, but by almost half. And I can guarantee you that every penny saved will be reinvested to improve patient care.
It is not just about spending our money wisely, stripping out these layers of bureaucracy also sends a very important message to the NHS.
To the receptionists, the porters, the healthcare assistants, doctors, nurses and yes, to the managers - for the NHS needs good managers. The message is:
You no longer have to wait for a cascade of diktats to tumble down from on high, in order to do your job.
You are liberated from the targets, from the distracting controls imposed by Whitehall.
You are free to deliver the services that best respond to the needs of your patients.
What is our aspiration for these changes? Simple: to achieve health outcomes in results for patients - as good as any in the world.
And to show people what this means, we announced this week the action we are taking to improve our cancer survival rates. We plan to:
Introduce a brand new screening technology, saving up to 3,000 lives a year.
Introduce a cancer drugs fund, benefitting 2,000 patients this year alone.
Deliver 1,200 new specialists in cancer services in our NHS by the year after next.
It is an aspiration for a healthcare system which delivers truly preventative care - so we have a healthier population and can keep the costs down for the NHS.
Real local leadership
In all this, we want local communities - not central government - to be taking the lead in improving health.
It is a plan for truly integrated health and social care services; one that the Liberal Democrats brought into our coalition to place local government at the heart of NHS decision-making.
So we are ring-fencing the public health budget and devolving it to communities so they can take the best decisions locally.
And today, I can announce action to help further communities better respond to local people's needs:
We will, in this financial year, provide £70 million to local NHS and councils to help patients this year have the support they need after being discharged from hospital - enough funding to provide support to 35,000 people over the next seven months.
This means better support for the most vulnerable, when they need it most.
So as a Party and as a Coalition Government, we have made our choice: to cut the deficit, not the NHS.
We have made our choice: to reform so that we can meet our aspiration to deliver world-class healthcare for NHS patients.
We have made our choice: to sustain the values of the NHS. An NHS, free at the point of use, based on need and not on ability to pay. That's equity.
We have made our choice: for NHS, focussed on results for patients, as good as any in the world. That's excellence.
Equity and excellence - values we believe in, and NHS services of which we can all be proud.
That, Conference is our goal.
Together, Conference, is in everyone's interest, we will liberate the NHS