Most people are fortunate enough to be able to forget about work during Christmas. But for thousands of NHS staff, it will be business as usual as they work round the clock providing the care that the public values and relies upon.

When I took up my post at the end of June, I said one of my priorities was to engage regularly with NHS staff up and down the country. There are many areas of the country that I have yet to visit, but in my 24 weeks as health secretary, I have been on 23 visits to nine out of the 10 regions in England, listening to frontline staff and hearing first hand about their experiences of the NHS.

I am sure that I get more out of these exchanges than the staff do, because I need to hear what staff think even when it is very critical (although these views are always expressed with courtesy).

The NHS next stage review is engaging thousands of doctors, nurses and other frontline staff in shaping the service's future. The one thing I find on all my visits are patients and their relatives keen to tell me what a good service they receive from staff, whether in hospitals, GP surgeries, mental health trusts or adult social care.

Thank you for your hard work, your dedication and your commitment - not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

I look forward to working with you in 2008 as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the NHS. In the meantime, to you and your families, Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.