Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature NHS policy

NHS: the Blair years

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 17 May 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:1030
  1. Polly Toynbee, political and social commentator
  1. The Guardian
  1. polly.toynbee{at}

    Waiting lists have fallen and resources have grown, yet staff and the public are still unhappy with the NHS. As Tony Blair prepares to step down, Polly Toynbee analyses why his legacy has gone horribly wrong

    In what state of health has Tony Blair left the National Health Service? The story could have been one of dazzling success. If, on that May morning back in 1997 a soothsayer had told him what the results would be 10 years later, he might reasonably have expected to rank somewhere alongside Aneurin Bevan as a hero of NHS history.

    Instead doctors and nurses are united in fury while voters tell pollsters that they think the service is worse than it was and they expect it to get worse still. For the first time ever, a majority of the population think the NHS would be safer in Conservative hands. Results have never been so good, yet the public view of the NHS has never been so glum. How did this happen?

    The Labour government began well with a 10 year national strategy agreed after lengthy consultation with NHS staff led by Tony Blair himself. The Wanless report uncovered the depth of need after decades of funding that almost always fell below real NHS inflation rates. The public agreed money was needed; national insurance rates were raised to pay for it. NHS spending will have trebled by next year to £94bn (€138bn; $187bn), easily reaching the European Union average, as promised. Ever since Attlee cut back its budget before it was even launched, the NHS has been pinched for funds. It has certainly never enjoyed such a time of plenty.

    Where has the money gone? Opposition parties will keep up that chant until the next election, accusing Labour of giving poor value for the cash …

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