Politics: NHS Reforms Make It Better Blair

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Byline: By Caroline Gammell

Tony Blair claimed yesterday that major reforms to the NHS were a "one-off" opportunity to make the health service work better.

He said the changes - which could see the closure of some health departments - would provide more specialised care for people when they need it.

The Prime Minister conceded change would be difficult but insisted "the best is yet to come" for the NHS.

Speaking to more than 100 heads of Primary Care Trusts in London, he said: "Quality healthcare could only come from significant change.

"I do not underestimate the difficulties of all this."

The Prime Minister told the audience that by changing the structure at a local level, it would actually bring care "closer to people".

Mr Blair referred to two reports which argue that specialist care, such as immediate emergency treatment for strokes, can often be provided more effectively outside local hospital A&E departments.

He said 18.5 million people went to A&E every year but not all needed emergency care.

"Very few have life-threatening conditions," he said.

"Major emergencies represent about ten per cent.

"Most people would be better served by care closer to home."

The Prime Minister also said out-of-hours GP services, walk-in centres and minor injury units should take much of the traffic from A&E, and he vigorously defended the on-going reforms.

Karen Jennings, head of health at the union Unison, said the "climate of debt" in the NHS put the development of new policy under suspicion.

"We are extremely concerned that these policies may be being driven by deficits, not what is best for patient care," she said.

And Geoff Martin, of campaign group Health Emergency, said claims that closing local A&E departments, trauma units and intensive care facilities would improve services "turns all logic on its head". …