New Labour's 'choice' agenda

At the Labour party conference in September 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair had highlighted a desire to see more provision of choice in the NHS. In contrast to the Conservative government, the 'choice' agenda was not focused on increasing access to private insurance, but on increasing access to choice for NHS patients:

'A predecessor of mine famously said she wanted to be able to go into the hospital of her choice, "on the day I want, at the time I want, with the doctor I want". That was Margaret Thatcher's argument for going private. I want to go to the hospital of my choice, on the day I want, at the time I want. And I want it on the NHS.'

Over the course of the early 2000s, the Labour government continued to develop its ‘choice’ agenda.

On 14 January 2002, Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, made a speech to the new health network that focused heavily on choice and the need to shift the balance of power towards the patient.

Milburn also introduced the concept of 'foundation hospitals' for top performing hospital trusts. These hospitals would be more independent and the secretary of state committed to investigating the legal, financial, governance and accountability issues:

'As capacity expands, so choice will grow. Choice will fundamentally change the balance of power in the NHS. Hospitals will no longer choose patients. Patients will choose hospitals. And in primary care, patients will have more information about the choices available there too.'


Blair T.
Speech by Prime Minister Tony Blair to the Labour party conference.
BBC; 1999.

Milburn A.
Speech by Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP, Secretary of State for Health to the new health network.

House of Commons.
Health: Patient choice. HC Deb 26 February 2003 C634W.
Hansard; 2003.

Department of Health.
More resources for the NHS: more choices for patients.
Department of Health; 2001.

Department of Health.
CHD Choice.
Department of Health; 2010.