Modernisation for more money: Milburns message to the NHS

3 Feb 00
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has sought to draw a line under the prime minister's ill-judged comments on health spending last month with a conciliatory message that big money will be pumped into the NHS as long as big strides are made on modernisation. A

04 February 2000

In a major speech to the King's Fund on February 2, Milburn also spoke of the profound impact that the Shipman murder case would have on the profession. 'Increasingly, the accountability issue can no longer be fudged,' he commented.

Less than a month after Tony Blair's startling declaration that British health spending needs to be ratcheted up to European levels, his health secretary has restated the terms on which lavish new resources might indeed be forthcoming.

Milburn told his audience: 'It is investment plus reform that is the key to the sustainability of the NHS. In other words, the extra resources the PM has outlined for the health service bring with them a price tag. More money means more modernisation.

'If we poured in extra billions and failed to meet public expectations for a modern NHS, we would run the risk of fatally wounding the public's support for a universal, tax-funded health service.'

Modernisation, according to the health secretary, 'calls for a reinvention of the national health service – what it does, the way it is run and how it is organised'.

Though the speech failed to say how much cash the NHS was in line for, its placatory tone reinforces the shift in the government's stance. Managers and clinicians are no longer being railed against, and finding the billions to inject into the NHS no longer seems a hurdle. Rather the question is how to ensure the money goes on the much-vaunted 're-engineering' of the service.

Fundamental reform may also flow from this week's Shipman murder conviction in Hyde, Milburn believes.

'No one should underestimate the significance or, I believe, the impact that the Shipman case will have. It has the potential to alter fundamentally the relationships between patients, doctors, the regulatory bodies and the health service – and to alter them for the better.'

Finally, Milburn spelled out his bold vision of the NHS in the Internet age. The health service would use 'its trusted NHS brand name to move into information provision' through digital television and other on-line services.


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