Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has set out his vision for a modernised National Health Service at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool this week.

“We cannot meet 21st Century challenges with a 20th Century system. Monolithic, centrally-controlled healthcare will never be as innovative or as efficient as we know it must be,” he told delegates.

He pledged to set the NHS free, allowing autonomy for professionals, accountability to patients and offering choice, and promised to boost investment in the Service year-on-year while delivering reform.

His list of modifications to help meet the new demands on healthcare included: GP budgets to commission healthcare on behalf of their patients; bringing care closer to home through local commissioning, thereby protecting community hospitals, accessible maternity services and local A&E departments; providing patients with information for about their condition and their treatment options; setting hospitals set free of bureaucracy and controls, free to provide integrated and efficient services; and employing evidence-based strategies to deliver better health outcomes - including a search and destroy strategy against hospital infection.

New cancer strategy

Furthermore, he promised a new cancer strategy promoting prevention, awareness of symptoms, early diagnosis and rapid treatment. “It is a disgrace that our survival rates from cancer are so far below those in Europe. If we were to achieve European averages, we would save an extra 24 lives a day. If we achieve the best in Europe, we would save 95 lives a day from cancer.”

“It is a scandal that we are the leading European centre for cancer research - funded not least by donations from the British public - and yet Britain is amongst the slowest in Europe in the take-up of new cancer drug treatments,” he said.

To brighten this picture, Lansley said the Tories would ensure that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence appraises new cancer drugs at the same time as drugs are licensed, “so that the UK will be among the first to introduce effective cancer treatments.”

As a spokesperson for NICE explained to PharmaTimes UK news, the mechanism to get drugs endorsed for use on the National Health Service close to their approval already exists in the form of its Single Technology Appraisals process.

This allows the Institute to start assessing the cost-effectiveness of a drug before it receives its approval, to ensure a speedier take-up once the green light is given. However, topics for this process are referred by the Secretary of State for Health, so Lansley is basically promising that, if the Tories come into power, they will ensure that more new cancer drugs are put forward for STA.

Stroke aid

Lansley also singled out stroke care as an area in dire need of attention, pointing out that, three years ago, the National Audit Office showed how, in Australia, 9% of stroke patients were given clot-busting drugs. The equivalent in Britain should be over 10,000 stroke patients but, last year, only 218 received such treatment. “We spend more on stroke care than other countries, but we still have worse outcomes. So we will reform stroke services and save lives,” he promised.

Drawing his speech to a close, Lansley praised the NHS as “a great asset” with “values which we will defend”, but stressed the need for a modernised system. “It must be changed because you can't deliver the healthcare people need, if you don't listen to patients, or trust the doctors, nurses and managers whose job it is to care for them,” he concluded.