Well, what a week. Hardly a dry eye in sight by the time the Great and Good emerged from Westminster Abbey after the service to celebrate 50 years of the NHS. 'I felt very proud just to be there,' one health minister told me, grateful to be in the right job when the anniversary came around.

Such sentiments were commonplace from all quarters. After all, the Tories were quick to point out, they had actually been in charge of the service for 35 of those blessed 50 years. And it was our man Beveridge's idea, chipped in the Lib Dems. Yes, worries for the future were expressed, but it was not a week for carping.

In the Daily Mail, Paul Johnson wrote a lavish piece in praise of Nye Bevan. Boldness was Bevan's secret, the Ginger Pundit instructed Tony Blair. By this stage in the 1945 government's life the NHS Bill was law. In 1998 welfare reform has barely begun. Not that health ministers have been inactive this week. In a speech on Nye, Tessa Jowell even claimed him as 'a bit of a Blairite' because he had warned that 'not even the apparently enlightened principles of 'the greatest good for the greatest number' can excuse indifference to individual suffering' - a good point in a country far more individualistic and assertive than in 1948.

We had a new pamphlet (that NHS Home Healthcare Guide), extra cash for NHS Direct, a conference for community pharmacists, etc etc. Some of Labour's 10 NHS anniversary announcements had a familiar ring, plucked from (or pre-figured in) last winter's white paper. Tony Blair used his own speech to the Earl's Court conference to trail that promise of serious extra money - but only in return for a big push towards modernisation by the service.

Here's the crucial passage. 'It is a contract to renew the NHS: investment for reform, money for modernisation. We will work with you to do it. We will listen, we will consult. We will be open. But change and reform there should be, and no vested interests, no conservative instincts, no reluctance to do things differently, should stand in the way. I believe you are on for that change.'

That is pure Blairspeak which translates in Dobsonspeak into two basic impulses: the drive for evidence-based medicine and clinical audit and the Jowell-led assault on health inequalities based on social class and income. 'Fairness and cost-effectiveness', as his own Earl's Court speech put it.

And yet... I detected a wistful note among some ministers. 'What do we have to do to get this message about quality and standards into the newspapers?' one asked in frustration. Well, it is certainly true that the only 50th birthday story I saw on page 1 (apart from that row over the ward at Trafford General) was the Mail's 'Blair's radical cure for the NHS'.

Not that all ministers are gloomy. 'The Bristol case gave us a huge opening. Selling this would have been much more difficult without Bristol, because neither doctors nor the public are keen to acknowledge medical fallibility,' said one. This may be generational. Younger doctors (and patients?) are less stuffy about all this royal college flummery, ministers believe.

Now to that carping. When MPs staged a brief 50th birthday debate in the Commons, leftwingers such as Llew Smith (Nye's successor in Ebbw Vale) complained of creeping commercialisation, especially via the private finance initiative, while his neighbour from Newport, Paul Flynn, predicted that at the NHS's 100th anniversary people will look back with horror on our 'obsessive' reliance on drugs.

Tory moderate Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (who is 75 but looks 60; what's he on?) even dared question the free-at-the-point-of-use principle, and urged ministers to consider 'additional ways to finance health' 'before global economic crisis strikes'. European socialists have no 'statist' hang-ups about health, he said.

Ann Widdecombe hinted as much in her speech to Tory medics that same evening. 'A sterile political debate in which merely parties compete over statistics will not serve our nation well,' she declared. All in all, though, a well-organised week for Dobbo. Which left me with a paradoxical thought. Mr Blair is desperate to find an Anyone-But-Ken candidate for mayor of London. The better Mr Dobson is seen to do the more likely he is to get the call?