Details of a major annual opinion survey which will seek to build up a national picture of patients' experience of the NHS have been revealed by health minister Alan Milburn.

Mr Milburn said that 100,000 patients will be asked their views on the quality of services in areas including hospital food, use of painkillers after operations, and standards of nursing and GP care.

The survey was heralded in the white paper last month as a way of obtaining 'systematic evidence to enable the NHS to measure itself against the aspirations and experience of its users'.

According to reports of private briefings given by the minister to some newspapers, 1,000 patients in each health authority will be chosen at random for the opinion audit, which will be conducted by professional survey firms.

The results of the survey will be published, in theory allowing comparison between HAs.

The white paper said the survey, which will take place later this year, 'will give patients and their carers a voice in shaping the modern and dependable NHS'.

Renewal of the NHS in the year of its 50th anniversary is one of the government's 'key aims' for 1998, prime minister Tony Blair said in his new year message.

'We should celebrate its achievements and support its renewal in the best possible way. It is Labour's finest past

achievement.

'Let us make 1998 the year when its future was secured for the next 50 years,' he said.

See Comment, page 19.