NHS reforms

On Monday the Coalition Government set out our radical plans to reform the NHS.

The NHS is a vast organisation that spends more than £100 billion every year, deals with an average of one million patients every 36 hours, and employs 1.7 million staff.

Only the Chinese People's Liberation Army, the Wal-Mart supermarket chain and the Indian Railways directly employ more people.

The health service faces enormous challenges, not least the rapidly ageing population and the huge advances in medical science which are already contributing to spiralling costs.

So we have to help the NHS meet those challenges, without compromising its core principles - that it's universal, free at the point of use and based on need, not the ability to pay.

We are protecting spending on the NHS.  But that doesn't mean that it can be immune from the need to be efficient, or that it doesn't need reform to ensure that it will be as loved in the next six decades as it has been in the last.

Like any public service, the NHS needs to be responsive and accountable.

So we need to turn the system on its head and devolve power away from the politicians and civil servants in Whitehall, giving it instead to patients, GPs and clinicians.

Every NHS Trust will become a Foundation Trust - something the Trusts responsible for St Richard's, Worthing Hospital and the Princess Royal are already working towards.

The changes will signal the demise of vast layers of bureaucracy.  Frankly, I don't think anyone around here will miss the Primary Care Trust or the Strategic Health Authority.  Together, they wasted millions of pounds on plans to downgrade our local hospitals and were accountable to no-one.

Fortunately, local people came together to fight off their plans and won.  But it took three years of tough campaigning and caused a huge amount of anxiety for staff and patients.

I think people value our excellent local GPs, and will like the idea of giving them a stronger role in commissioning our healthcare.

The NHS is a national treasure, but it's a local asset, too.  It began life as the people's health service.  I hope the era of the health bureaucrats is over, and that we can return power and control to the patients, to whom the health service really belongs.

Christopher N Howarth