However, at a King’s Fund conference in London this week on NHS progress over the past decade, Mr Blair said the NHS had undergone ‘real, transformative change’ since 1997.
The prime minister rejected calls for the NHS to be run by an independent board, free from political control.
He said health professionals would not have taken ‘tough decisions’ such as introducing alternative providers.
DoH health czars launched reports this week highlighting NHS advances in treatment of circulatory diseases, cancer, mental health and in A&E performance.
The reports said 10,000 lives were being saved each year by the use of statins, and premature deaths in under-75s from circulatory disease had fallen by 36 per cent.
Meanwhile, A&E waits were down and the NHS was on track for a 20 per cent cut in cancer deaths by 2010, the reports said. Progress in mental health has prompted the WHO to label England’s mental health services ‘the best in Europe’.
Key policies such as choice, Payment by Results and the introduction of private competition into the NHS will be maintained under future governments, Mr Blair predicted. ‘We have to do more to take people with us.’
But the key achievement was reaching the point where the future of the NHS was no longer under question, he said: ‘Ten years ago the question was “does the NHS have a future?” There’s a debate over how we are improving it. That’s a real achievement.’
Mr Blair said the introduction of private providers into the NHS had driven up standards.
‘When we started to introduce private providers, that was when we started to get falls in waiting,’ he said.
‘There’s a basic lesson here. If the service is not good enough, there should be a way to have a different system in place.’
‘It’s true to say that in the first two to three years we didn’t push forward with reforms, although I thought doing that before investment would be difficult.’
GPC deputy chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said Mr Blair’s government had done more harm than good: ‘GPs will remember how they squandered the goodwill of the NHS by privatising services and wasting money on incoherent initiatives.’