The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech on the National Health Service – 18 May 1991

Below are extracts from Mr Major’s speech at the Stamford and Spalding constituency dinner, held on Saturday 18th May 1991.


I strongly believe in the National Health Service. It serves me and my family well. This Government will strengthen the NHS and ensure that more money goes into patient care.

Only one ‘attack’ on the NHS is being made in British politics. It comes from Labour. Their disgraceful and unprincipled assault is sapping the morale of NHS staff, insulting their work, and cynically exploiting and alarming the sick. Scaring not caring. That’s the Labour policy.
Labour’s campaign is based on a central lie – that NHS Trust hospitals are ‘opting out’ of the NHS. That was the Big Lie Labour peddled to the voters of Monmouth. Neil Kinnock has repeated the lie.

It is a complete untruth. NHS Trust hospitals are and will remain part of the NHS. They will be run by NHS staff and will treat NHS patients just as they have done before – only better. Because they will be locally run, they will be better run. Trust hospitals are the flagship of the NHS. Their mission is to put patients first.

Apparently Labour are against this.

The National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts issued a statement yesterday explaining that Trusts are not opting-out of the NHS. NAHAT says – and I quote – ‘they are as much a part of the NHS as they ever were’. In the light of that statement, I challenge Neil Kinnock to withdraw his lie.

But it seems Labour prefer lies and innuendo to the truth. First, they say the NHS Trusts are not part of the NHS. Then Robin Cook raises the spectre of charging by saying that Trusts will put profits before patients.

Every week the NHS received over £630 million; every week it provides well over a million patient treatments. Only Labour would be so malignant as to ignore over 150,000 stories of care successfully provided every day, and highlight the few things that will inevitably go wrong in a Service on this scale. And then oppose all our efforts to put them right. Labour ignore the fact that in a Southend Trust hospital, for example, there will be 1,500 more operations this year and 3,000 more the next.

Labour may see party political advantage in putting the boot into one of Britain’s greatest national assets. They may be able to deceive people for a time – but not for long. For to my mind, actions speak louder than words. The last Labour Government damaged the Health Service – just as it is damaging it now. They allowed nurses’ pay to fall in value by over a fifth. They slashed the hospital building programme. They only delivered annual growth in resources of 1.5 per cent – under half the 3.1 per cent a year this Government has achieved since 1979.

Since 1979 Labour have backed strikes against patients. They criticised plans for a Review Body that has helped raise the value of nurses’ pay by almost a half. And lined up with the BMA to oppose our selected list in drug prescribing, which took resources away from the boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies in Basle and put them into surgeries in Britain.

It is Labour which has always been the Party of ‘cuts’. Now they promise to be the Party of cuts in the future. Their own Leader has told us they would spend less than the Conservatives. On the figures for spending increases proposed by Mr Kinnock they would have been able to treat 500,000 fewer patients than our £3.5 billion increase will allow this year. They would add to the costs of the NHS by abolishing charges for the better off. Turn over control of Health Authorities to the self-same Labour politicians who have disgraced the name of local government. And sell out to the big trade unions by scrapping competitive tendering and ending the drive for efficiency that has delivered hundreds of millions of pounds to NHS patients in recent years. Providers before patients. That, too, is Labour’s policy.

Labour’s performance and promises condemn them. We stand on our record. Under this Government more patients have been treated than ever before in NHS history. Not least because there are over 50,000 more nurses, 4,000 more dentists, and over 4,500 more GPs than there were in 1979.

The present reforms will carry forward that revolution in the scale and quality of patient care. They will allow more local decisions and let family doctors decide the pattern of care that is best for patients. Crucially they will lead resources and patients into the places where services are promptest and best. And they will produce clear contracts of service, which, in line with our Citizens’ Charter initiative, will ensure that the Health Service commits itself to the highest standards everywhere.

Patients are entitled to less forbidding waiting rooms and better visiting hours for families. They should have proper notice of a hospital appointment. They deserve clear information about what is going to happen to them and when.

Those campaigning against our Health reforms should be challenged to justify their opposition to a better deal for patients in matters like these.

No one can deny that resources could be spent better. It cannot be right that the average cost of an ear, nose and throat in-patient treatment can vary by as much as 4 times in different parts of the Service, or that the same operation can cost many tens of times more in one hospital than in another. It cannot be right that in one District no patient will wait more than a year for non-urgent general surgery, while in another more than half may have to do so. Nor that all orthopaedic patients in one District receive their treatment in the first year, while in another more than two-thirds have to wait twelve months or more.

Our Health reforms are tackling these problems. And I say this, simply and clearly, to those in the BMA and elsewhere who are campaigning against them. We will not alter policies that are in the interests of patients. We will see these reforms through. We will always be ready to listen to constructive proposals as to how our reforms might be made to work better. But I do not – and will not – respond to destructive campaigns based on selective anecdote, one-sided presentation of statistics or trade union style resistance to all change.

The NHS has complete support from this Government. It is time Labour called a halt to their shabby and shameful political campaign. The real crisis of confidence in the NHS comes not from alleged ‘underfunding’ by a Government that has committed record resources to health care, but from the tactics of its so-called Labour friends, determined to see that NHS achievements are undercut, undermined and undersold.