Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday outlined his vision for the NHS as it enters its 60th year - as campaigners protested outside a Birmingham hospital which is set to cut emergency surgery services.
Mr Brown's message to NHS staff that he wanted a health service that "concentrates on care as well as cure" came as more than 30 people gathered outside City Hospital, in Winson Green, to demonstrate against plans to transfer A&E surgical services six miles to Sandwell General, in West Bromwich.
As part of the proposals, a 24-hour surgical assessment unit, which will treat the most severe patients, will be set up at City and the hospital will maintain 24-hour access to emergency theatres.
Despite strong public opposition and an independent review of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust's controversial proposal, Health Secretary Alan Johnson approved the move last month.
Protesters claimed that if Mr Brown really wants the NHS to be "personal to the needs of the patient" their voices must be heard, so they have vowed to protest every day until Mr Johnson revokes his decision.
Raghib Ahsan, a member of the City Hospital Supporters' Group, suggested the move - which would mean patients and visitors face a further 15-minute journey - "could be a fatal decision".
He said: "Aston and Handsworth, where I live, have high rates of shootings and violent crime, so to someone who's been shot or stabbed those extra few minutes could be the difference between surviving or dying.
"This could be a fatal decision by the trust, if they insist on going ahead with cutting A&E services.
"I am afraid that there will be some casualties as a result of this."
Peter Jackson, spokesman for the Respect Party, said: "More than 5,000 people have signed various petitions opposing this move, and we can't find any resident who supports the trust's plans, so I don't understand how Alan Johnson can approve them against such opposition.
"We want him to come to Birmingham and justify his decision to the local community, faced with the reality of his decision."
The protesters spoke out as Mr Brown, in a New Year message to staff, signalled his intention to press ahead with a constitution for the NHS.
During his visit to Wrexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire, yesterday, the Prime Minister set out his hopes for the health service's golden anniversary year.
He said: "There will be changes in the health service over the year. We will meet our 18-week target, there is improved cleanliness in hospitals and also wider access to GPs.
"The most important thing this year will be moving from a health service that concentrates on cure to one that also concentrates on care.
"I want a health service that in the next 60 years is more personal to the needs of the patient."
Downing Street had earlier released a message from Mr Brown in which he paid tribute to the efforts of all the NHS staff.
He said the constitution, first mooted under his predecessor Tony Blair, will set out for the first time the rights and responsibilities linked to entitlement to NHS care.
It would form part of a package of "reform and change" which will secure the future of Britain's tax-funded state healthcare service for another 60 years, said Mr Brown.
He added that Mr Johnson will set out a programme of change this year to deliver "far greater control and choice" for NHS patients over their own health-care. But he also left no doubt over his firm commitment to the NHS, which he said was "as vital for our next 60 years as it was for our last".
Mr Brown also stressed his intention to consult with staff over planned changes designed to deliver personalised treatment and to increase the emphasis on the prevention of illness.
"I believe these are steps vital to securing the health of the NHS for the next 60 years," he said.