Headlines: January 14th, 1998

The 50th anniversary of the founding of the NHS will be marked with major reforms and events throughout the UK. Tony Blair has made it clear that rejuvenating the NHS is a priority for 1998. He said: “We should celebrate its achievements and support its renewal in the best possible way.”The move from the internal market to a co-operative approach is expected to bring the greatest benefits in 1998. The ending of competition and a move towards partnerships is designed to free resources that can be applied to patient care. The expectation is that longer term service agreements covering three to five years will lead to greater stability and allow services to be planned over a longer timescale.

What the NHS has lacked in the past has been any overall patient assessment of how it is doing. The 50th annivsary will be marked by the introduction of a survey of 100,000 patients. A sample of patients will be questioned on the quality of food, the use of painkillers after operations, the standard of nursing care and how well they were treated by GPs and consultants. The survey may also include outpatients and people relying on community care, to find out how well they are treated by GPs and district nurses.

It is planned to conduct the servey annually so that progress can be measured and standards improved. In announcing the survey, Health Minister Alan Milburn said: “For the first time in the history of the NHS there will be qualitative evidence on how well the health service cares for people.”