New health secretary Andy Burnham has said that despite the NHS’ coming financial problems, he still wants to see a health service fit for the digital age.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool this morning, Burnham insisted that the NHS still had space to focus on reshaping its services focus on quality and prevention.

The conference opened yesterday with a warning that although the NHS’ current spending is protected until 2010-11, it could see real term cuts of 15 billion in the following five years.

Burnham said this morning that while the NHS was not immune to from what was happening in the wider economy, Labour had a good record on public sector funding and that the prime minister was committed to the health service.

He also attacked the Conservatives, who yesterday promised real term growth for the NHS, while indicating they would cut other departmental budgets.

However, he said health service managers would need to respond to a tighter financial environment, saying this does not mean they should “go back to the bad old days of longer waiting lists and cost cutting.”

He said, repeatedly, that quality did not have to cost more, citing the savings that could be made from reducing errors and healthcare associated infections.

Burnham, who was a junior minister under health secretary Patricia Hewitt, also advocated her agenda of “care closer to home” and prevention.

His message about the NHS needing to change now to prepare for 2010-11 echoed that given to the conference yesterday by NHS chief executive David Nicholson.

Yesterday he told the conference: “Let’s not kid ourselves that it’s not going to get extraordinarily tough. But I don’t want to see us running around trying to sort out the problem when the money dries up. The worst thing would be to hide in our bunkers and stop driving reform.”