A strange feeling came over me when I was listening to health secretary Alan Milburn's address to the NHS Confederation's annual conference in Glasgow.

At first I thought it might be the haggis returning to haunt me from the night before, but no, this was even more disconcerting. It was a strange, uncomfortable feeling, one that was very unfamiliar. Eventually, some time later I identified it and realised why it was so odd. It was pride.

Cynicism is cool and fashionable in the NHS, and often in the past with good reason. Feeling positive about the service and what politicians are doing to it is usually regarded as creepy. Too often genuine difficulties have been blamed on the service, and intractable problems have been prescribed 'reorganisation' to little effect.

Until recently a cogent argument could have been made that the Treasury has, since its inception, really run the NHS. It seems to be operating on an economic model that not only does not recognise the significance of the service sector to the economy as a whole, but has regarded the NHS as the 'Department of Unproductive Services', a black hole into which the only guiding principle for funding is political expediency.

But something has changed. We now have a government with a vision for excellence to match European levels, and which has willed the resources to match. There is a passion for standards of quality that are high and consistent, with the structures and powers of clinical governance to match.

There is an aim to abolish waiting, with the means to match. These are aims (with the resources and approach) for which many of us have been striving for very many years. And so, finally, this strange feeling. For the first time I feel a genuine pride that at last we have a government that not only understands but has acted. We heard a secretary of state give a speech and answer questions that were entirely aligned to the views of the majority of the audience, who have too often in the past been frustrated by bland vacuity from politicians.

This unaccustomed pride extends to Alan Milburn himself. From the nadir of John Moore, how many secretaries of state can really be said to have inspired and delivered?

We will have the means, we have the support and direction, and we need to learn new approaches to delivering what may one day again be regarded as the best health service in the world.

Nigel Webb Chief executive Solihull health authority