As 2009 comes to a close I think we can look back at a successful year overall - progress made, challenges met, lessons learned.

From pandemic flu to the Change4Life campaign, from new controls on tobacco sales to our early diagnosis guarantee for cancer patients, from the NHS constitution to the Care and Support Green Paper, it has been an eventful year. While we take a moment to reflect, we know we have to renew our efforts in 2010.

The year ahead presents us with new challenges: to transform social care, to continue to improve public health, and to accelerate reform in the NHS

The year ahead presents us with new challenges: to transform social care, to continue to improve public health, and to accelerate reform in the NHS. Last week I set out my vision to take the NHS from good to great over the next five years, to create a service that is truly people centred, preventative and productive.

As we take our first steps in this new era, I want to be sure that we take everyone with us, and I want to support and empower staff to make the changes we need.

Since I returned to the Department of Health this year, I have been constantly reminded of the passion, dedication and professionalism of NHS staff. I think people recognise how lucky we are in this country. When the NHS was dragged into the US healthcare debate over the summer, the public’s spontaneous response showed just how loved and valued the service really is.

And I think people recognise too that the NHS doesn’t clock off for Christmas. For many thousands of NHS staff it will be business as usual. So I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank you to everyone for their hard work this year - and to wish HSJ, its readers, and their families, a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

Andy Burnham is secretary of state for health