Johnson reaches out to NHS workers

Alan Johnson today attempted to heal the government’s rift with NHS workers.

The health secretary labelled nurses and doctors as the most important resources in the health service.

Addressing the Labour party conference, Mr Johnson said the government wanted to reform the health service into a clinically-led and locally-driven service.

He told delegates: “To achieve this, government needs to get behind health stag, not stand in their way.

“Their public service ethos is the life force of the National Health Service.”

But the health secretary made no mention of the pay disputes that have driven a wedge between the government and public sector employees.

The government is insisting on staggered pay awards to curb inflation, but public sector workers complain this devalues the award and amounts to a pay cut.

Instead, Mr Johnson promised to improve security for NHS employees, announcing a £97 million boost to the NHS security budget.

This will be used to improve security in hospitals, train staff in dealing with aggressive behaviour and increase prosecutions against patients and relatives who abuse staff.

He also announced personal safety alarms will be issued to frontline NHS staff.

Speaking after Mr Johnson, the new health minister Ara Darzi said the prime minister understood frontline staff “are the NHS”.

Mr Johnson also focused on patients’ concerns, acknowledging more needed to be done to improve patients’ confidence in hospital cleanliness.

He backed calls for a hygiene regulator with the power to close, clean and re-open wards as necessary, with the option of fining dirty hospitals.

In a markedly more political address than Gordon Brown’s speech to conference yesterday, Mr Johnson attacked the Conservatives record on the health service.

The Tories bungled report on so-called NHS cuts and opposition to clinical change “illustrates clearly how unfit to govern the Conservative party has become,” he said.

Mr Johnson told delegates: “The Tories are not the future of the National Health Service, they’re still catching up with the past.”

He pointed to the Conservatives’ opposition of the NHS 60 years ago, and more recent attempts to contemporary additional funding.

Mr Johnson prepared the audience for further reform of the NHS, quoting its founder Nye Bevan on the need for constant change.

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Johnson had failed to answer the “fundamental question” of where Gordon Brown will be taking the NHS.

Health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The health secretary has not explained how more personalised care will be delivered or what the role of the private sector will be in delivering it.

“As the extra NHS spending comes to an end this year, we mustn’t forget that Gordon Brown is the man who spent billions more on the health service only to see stinging deficits and worsened productivity.”