The incoming NHS Commissioning Board will be handed a cash pot of £95 billion to deliver the new NHS Mandate, published by the government this week.
In what is being described by the Department of Health as a historic, landmark moment for the health service, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has delivered a mandate designed to propel a shift from a target-focused culture to one that concentrates on quality and outcomes for patients.
The mandate sets out exactly what the NHSCB is expected to achieve over the next two years, with the support of £95 billion from the government for the year 2013/14.
According to the DH, it signals a commitment to an NHS "that is able to meet patients’ needs and expectations in the face of growing demand", and, for the first time, will allow the health service to be measured against what really matters to patients.
Top on the list of priorities is improving early diagnosis, slashing premature deaths, and improving care for new mothers and patients with dementia.
Other key objectives include a bigger step into the digital arena, enabling all patients to book GP appointments, talk to their GP practices, and order repeat prescriptions online by 2015.
"Never in its long history has the NHS faced such rapid change in our healthcare needs, from caring for an older population, to managing the cost of better treatments, to seizing the opportunities of new technology," said Hunt.
"This mandate is about giving the NHS the right priorities to deal with those challenges".
Welcoming the mandate, Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHSCB, said it "marks a major step on the road to the more liberated and innovative NHS that can be more responsive to its patients".
“Make no mistake, the NHS will find this a challenging and stretching ask - and it comes against the most challenging financial environment the NHS has ever experienced. But I believe the goals are achievable," he added.
According to Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, "crucial to the success of the Mandate will be the effective use of medicines".
"If the NHS is really serious on delivering on these priorities – such as preventing people from dying prematurely and enhancing quality of life for those with long-term conditions – ensuring they receive the best medicines will be essential," he stressed.
The NHSCB is currently preparing to take on its full responsibilities from April next year, with the aim of securing the "greatest value to patients from the nation's investment in the NHS," said its Chair Malcolm Grant.
"We will ensure maximum freedom for clinical commissioning groups, so that local clinical leaders may respond more effectively to the needs of their local population," he promised, but stressed that they will need to "innovate and transform local health services to meet the needs and wishes of patients, while assuring the delivery of improved outcomes".