Health secretary Alan Milburn thanked NHS staff for being brilliant over the Christmas and millennium holidays. London Ambulance Service took 2,300 calls in the first six hours of the new year . Greater Manchester Ambulance Service said it had its busiest night ever , taking 1,200 calls in the 12 hours each side of midnight. Mr Milburn said months of planning had proved wrong the doubting Thomases who said the NHS would not cope .

The government s right to bring in a ban on tobacco advertising was backed by the Court of Appeal - but tobacco companies may take the dispute to the House of Lords. They had until Tuesday to lodge a petition for a further appeal against the ban, which was originally scheduled to come into force on 10 December .

London mayoral candidate and former health secretary Frank Dobson said one of his five promises to the people of the capital would be to appoint a medical officer for health with a brief to tackle inequalities. Mr Dobson has also promised to unite relevant agencies to increase the stock of cheaper housing for nurses in a bid to ease the capital s recruitment and retention crisis.

Junior health minister Lord Hunt announced that patient prescription fraud has been cut by 40 per cent -£36m - since April. He said the figures were the first results of the government s determination to stamp out fraud in the NHS . The government created a directorate of counter-fraud services, led by former local authority fraud-buster Jim Gee, in September 1998.