I am really pleased to be celebrating another Christmas as health secretary. I could fill HSJ with a catalogue of NHS achievements over the past year.

For example, the end to long waits; turning the tide on infection; improving GP access; the World Health Organisation praising England's mental health services as the best in Europe; successfully taking the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill through Parliament, but I will stop there.

This was the year when the NHS turned 60 - a birthday we marked by setting out a radically new vision for the service with the next stage review and an NHS constitution, which attracted unprecedented engagement from managers and staff.

Behind these achievements lies the immense dedication of health service staff. Over the year, I have seen countless examples of that commitment in action - of people who are always prepared to go the extra mile and sometimes well beyond to improve the quality of people's lives.

What matters to patients

And it is these efforts that people remember. When the public talk about the NHS, they are unlikely to use any of the oft-quoted statistics and buzzwords that politicians and, dare I say, chief executives, tend to rely on. But they remember the efforts of the physio who helped them recover from a stroke, or the midwife who delivered their baby, the intensive care nurses who work around the clock, the cancer specialist, their family GP and too many others to mention.

The NHS performs miracles every day of the year. As we approach the festive season, while many of us will be looking forward to a few days off, and maybe a celebratory drink (no more than two or three units per day, of course), countless health service staff will still be working.

Next year will bring new challenges as the next stage review moves further into implementation, and with excellent leadership and increased investment, I am sure it will be yet another very special year for the NHS.

I wish you all a merry and restful Christmas and the very best for 2009.