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The Secretary of State has asked me to lead the work on the case for an NHS constitution. The notion of a constitution is exciting because it would be an important vehicle allowing us to enshrine the rights and responsibilities of patients in the NHS, the relationship between central Government and the NHS regionally and locally, and the NHSs connectivity with other agencies on health and well-being. I have been asked to examine the issue. We will talk to people, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to submit any ideas that he has on whether we ought to have a constitution, and if so, on what the content ought to be. I hope that his contribution will be slightly more constructive than that of Her Majestys official Opposition. They produced a constitution that they said would give clinicians independence, and said that they were creating a board that was at arms length from Government. When they were asked to whom the board
would be accountable, the answer was the Secretary of State for Healtha curious notion of independence and transparency. The debate on whether we ought to have a constitution, and what should be in it, gives us an opportunity to address some of the legitimate points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about patient, carer or user pressure. In a healthy democracy, there will always be such pressure. It is the responsibility of the elected Government and parliamentarians to absorb it, to listen to the heartfelt views of people who feel passionately about causes and to make decisions that are in the best collective interest. That is at the heart of the responsibility of an elected Government in a democratic society, and at the heart of how responsible parliamentarians ought to behave. I am delighted to say that we will never live in a country in which pressure groups have stopped fighting for the things that they care about most. Sectors may still feel that they are the Cinderella, including the mental ill-health and learning disability sector, and historically, to some extent, the child health sector. Carers increasingly tell me that the health service does not treat with sufficient respect care partners who look after older or disabled people. We should not be afraid of patient pressure; we should welcome it. Our job is to weigh up all those views and all that passion, and to welcome and encourage it, but then to make the difficult judgment calls that elected politicians are charged with making.
The Government are proud to have created the national health service. We are proud of the fact that we have rebuilt its foundations and rescued the NHS. One of our fundamental values and principles is that the NHS must remain free at the point of use, irrespective of means, and funded through general taxation. That is non-negotiablethere can be no compromise or dilutionbut I believe that we can retain that fundamental set of values and principles while addressing responsibly and seriously the legitimate concerns voiced by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest about the changing nature of society and the massive medical and technological advances that have taken place and will continue to take place. As part of the Lord Darzi process, I look forward to ensuring that we have the building blocks in place to move from an NHS whose foundations have been rebuilt to a world-class national health service.