I filed this column, from Labour's Bournemouth conference, a little later than usual this week. Gordon Brown had brought the annual leader's speech forward by 24 hours (he is in such a hurry, that man) and I wanted to catch what he had to say.

Why so? In a pre-conference interview for The Sunday Times, one of the series senior ministers spread throughout the newspapers at this season, the prime minister had generated a 'Brown: I'll fight election on health' headline.

Frankly, I was sceptical about that interpretation. Besides, it was not a great day for it. The Wanless II report on NHS disappointments since Blair-Brown's post-2001 cash tsunami still lay on many desks.

At least two Sunday papers had investigated persistent failure to prevent more deaths in maternity units. Another, The Observer, had uncovered 'a culture of neglect' in geriatric wards, which the Healthcare Commission is reporting on this week.

Just another week of hard pounding? Perhaps, though I can say in passing that my daughter-in-law felt that when she had her new baby in one of the NHS's prestigious London hospitals the other day, the nursing care was worse than three years earlier in another one. The medical care was terrific.

Even so I read the NHS Litigation Authority is facing£4.5bn worth of claims over birth-damaged babies.

Older midwives are retiring, so I keep being told, and there are skill-shortages on the wards. Who is that muttering grumpily 'what's all this home birth/choice nonsense about'? Ah yes, it's me.

Anyway here was the prime minister apparently promising more of the same and his sidekick, young Ed Balls, minister for other kids, promising to tackle excess teenage drinking (again). In blaming parents Mr Balls is at least facing the right way. He was only allowed Babycham at Christmas in his teens - and look at him now.

Is it the right background against which to call an unnecessary election?

Not in my book: far too risky, though Mr Brown seems in no rush to shut the chatter down. He will annoy voters if he is not careful.

Meanwhile, on the eve of conference he announced a series of goals for more extensive and faster screening for cervical, breast and bowel cancer, plus the plan to get all hospitals 'deep cleaned' in a new bid to eradicate superbugs.

I suppose we should add health secretary Alan Johnson's earlier announcement on organ donations to the list, though he seems a bit quiet so far, another victim of over-centralised management perhaps?

It is worth noting that Mr Brown's 'deep cleaning' initiative - to get those walls and ventilation shafts scrubbed each year - comes from the US, to where he instinctively looks for his ideas.

It also undercuts a similar pledge from opposition leader David Cameron, who is suffering a downturn, but should keep his nerve. As often in politics the motive can be both clean and dirty.

Before Mr Brown spoke, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis praised the new leader while complaining about the drift to 'more markets, more competition' and less democratic accountability in the public services. Too many upheavals, too much (£3bn) 'squandered' on management consultants.

Was I right to doubt the NHS would feature much when the big speech came? No. Mr Brown kept his NHS thoughts for his peroration: nothing we did not already know, including the NHS-saved eye after that rugby accident.

He stressed the need for a personalised service: 'I want an NHS personal to you', where we are all treated with respect. He knows it will be difficult, but Mr Brown in conference mode is not a man to emphasise the difficulties.

No mention here of excess doctors' pay bills thanks to Labour, or that£4.5bn litigation bill. He praised NHS staff: 'we do not thank them enough' - and conceded 'yes, there is work to do' on GPs' hours. Oh yes, and a cumulative£15bn for the Medical Research Council.

A better debut than Brown's detractors will have predicted, but harder to do than he made it sound.

As Lib Dem Vince Cable pointed out in Brighton last week, Mr Brown believes in state action. The NHS has had quite a lot of that.