Thank you for that welcome.
I’m delighted to be with you for the new – and improved – Spring Conference.
Even in the company of old friends,
I know that our hearts and minds are with the people of Ukraine.
We meet in the shadow of a global crisis
as the storm clouds of war darken European soil once more.
It’s difficult to express the sorrow – and the anger – that I feel
hearing reports of mass graves in Mariupol,
and the murder of pregnant women sheltering in maternity hospitals.
Make no mistake:
Vladimir Putin is a war criminal
and a threat to free people everywhere.
He must be held to account.
In the face of such evil we must do what we can
to stand with the people of Ukraine
and support President Zelensky as he defends his home.
I’ve placed my Department and the NHS at his service,
flying in almost two million life-saving medical supplies
and helping deploy an advance party of medical personnel to Romania and Moldova.
The British People have shown extraordinary compassion,
demonstrated by the welcome they gave 21 Ukrainian children with cancer
when they arrived in Birmingham 5 days ago.
It’s that kind of support
and strength of feeling
that prompted a British-Ukrainian man to stop me in my constituency last week
and ask me to tell the Prime Minister that in Ukraine, he’s a hero.
Putin’s disastrous invasion isn’t the only global crisis we’ve faced in recent times.
This is the first time we’ve seen each other at Spring Conference, face-to-face, in 3 years.
It’s because of the choices we’ve made
and the extraordinary efforts of the British people
that we are able to do so with no rules or restrictions –
having resolved together,
as one Nation,
to rely on common sense
and personal responsibility instead.
As we learn to live with Covid
and plan a future beyond the pandemic,
we do so as the most open country in Europe.
The choices we had to make were rarely easy.
We decided to open up last summer in the face of bitter opposition
and Keir Starmer’s campaign to keep our country under lockdown.
This winter we rejected Labour’s demand for new restrictions,
bolstering our defences with a record-breaking booster programme instead.
As we lead the world in learning to live with Covid,
we have a great deal to be proud of
and a strong track record to defend.
That doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent.
The pandemic has already consumed two years of government.
So this year’s slogan could hardly be more appropriate:
We’ve got to get on with the job.
Blackpool is a suitable place to land that message.
One of my first speeches as Health Secretary was delivered at a Community Centre
not 10 minutes from this hall.
I spoke about my determination to end the disease of disparity
and ensure everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life.
Covid brought these disparities into sharp focus,
and in many cases made them worse.
We promised real change in 2019.
If we want to win again,
it’s critical the scale of our ambition matches the size of this challenge,
and that the radicalism of our solutions
measures up to the urgency of this moment.
Healthier communities get richer…
and richer communities get healthier,
we cannot level up our economy without levelling up in health.
In this country we’re fortunate to enjoy freedom from catastrophic medical bills,
and the certainty of knowing that the NHS
– and the exceptional people who work there –
will be there for us in a crisis.
Yet even before the pandemic our healthcare system faced long term challenges:
changing demographics and disease,
the injustice of health disparities,
and unsustainable finances.
Our health budget is already larger than the GDP of Greece,
yet this decade is likely to see the fastest pace of ageing of any from the 1960s to the 2060s,
with many more people facing multiple long term conditions.
I remember a 16 year old William Hague telling Tory Party Conference
‘It’s alright for you, half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.’
Well Conference, I’m afraid to say:
It isn’t alright for you, because, with any luck,
most of you will be here in 30 or 40 years’ time!
The truth is that we’ve come to a crossroads.
We must choose between endlessly putting in more and more money
and reforming how we do healthcare.
Between increasing waiting lists and rising taxes,
or a healthcare revolution.
I’m sometimes asked if Conservatives have given up on public service reform.
Whether we’ve become some soggy social democratic party.
I’m here to tell you that’s nonsense.
Last week I set out a vision for comprehensive healthcare reform,
building on our Adult Social Care Reform White Paper,
and our plan to tackle the Covid backlog.
The principles underpinning that agenda are simple.
I want to prioritise prevention,
and redesign services around patients.
I want better performance standards,
and freedom for front-line innovators.
I want to put power where it belongs,
back in the hands of patients.
Prevention, personalisation, performance and people.
This is how we will reform the NHS
and bring about the biggest transfer of power and funding in decades.
From an ever-expanding state
and the community.
That starts with a new emphasis on prevention.
The NHS spends 40 per cent of its budget treating preventable conditions.
We spend too much time on the symptoms of ill health,
And too little time addressing the causes.
There is no small state which isn’t a ‘pre-emptive state’.
I want to shift our healthcare system to a new way of operating,
One that’s about helping the whole population to stay healthy,
not just treating those who show up asking for help.
We need to put power back in the hands of patients and their loved ones.
That’s why I will significantly expand the number of people with personal health budgets,
and drive a radical acceleration in the use of personalised care.
I will introduce a new Right to Choose for long-waiters
because I’m interested in choice for all
– not just the privileged few.
Finally, any reform agenda requires a relentless focus on performance.
When it comes to delivering affordable drugs,
Or accessible care,
the NHS ranks amongst the best in the world.
In areas like cancer survival rates
and cardiovascular disease
we know the NHS must do better.
That’s why I’m committed to improving leadership and management in the NHS and social care,
starting with General Sir Gordon Messenger’s Review,
and why later this year I will launch a new Mental Health Plan,
a new Digital Health and Care Plan,
and a new 10 Year Cancer Plan.
We have come so far as a country,
now the freest in Europe.
We will always be the party of opening things up,
not closing things down.
But we have so much more to do.
It’s our mission to deliver recovery and reform,
with determination and purpose.
So let’s go forward together.
Let’s deliver for the British people.
Let’s get on with the job.