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The BBC's Graham Satchell
"An increasing number would now be willing to pay for treatment"
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The BBC's Niall Dickson
reports from the emergency department of the Homerton hospital in east London
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Secretary of state for health, Alan Milburn
"The Nhs is making progress but there are real problems, of course there are"
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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
More people 'will pay for healthcare'
Hospital ward
Many fear the NHS will not exist in 10 years time
Even people who may struggle to afford private health care will consider it in a bid to skip lengthy waiting lists, according to a survey.

The Consumers' Association found that four in 10 people would consider going private, even though 84% of them said they did not have private medical insurance to fund the bills.

Most of these were the more affluent, but one in three of the less well-off said they would also consider it.

No government has properly investigated or attacked the root causes of long waits

Sally Williams
Consumers' Association

And over half of those surveyed said they thought the NHS should pay for treatment abroad if it could be provided quicker and cheaper than in the UK.

But Health Secretary Alan Milburn maintains that Britain now has the fastest growing health service of any major European country, and there is a positive bid to cut waiting lists.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's more money going in than ever before. The NHS budget is growing at twice the rate of the past. There's a huge amount of catching up to do, but progress is being made."

He denied that the Labour government was introducing "privatisation by stealth", adding that spare private sector capacity would only be used to benefit NHS patients - and that the care would remain free.

"The crucial issue is who pays for the care. I believe the NHS should pay for it.

"There is no intention of clinical services being privatised or NHS doctors and nurses having to transfer to the private sector," he said.

'Confidence in the service'

The consumer survey goes on to show that six out of 10 people said the NHS should offer speedier access to GPs.

There was also a great demand for better information about local health services, in particular primary care. Many said they were disappointed with the current levels of information available.

People who had received NHS care said they had great confidence in the health service and felt it good value for money.

The care will remain free

Health Secretary Alan Milburn

But nearly a third of the 1,904 adults surveyed said they did not believe there would still be an NHS in a decade's time.

Sally Williams, principal policy adviser at the Consumers' Association said the survey gave many lessons for the next government about how people want their NHS to be run.

"Political rhetoric about reducing waiting lists and improving the health service must be at an all time high - but no government has properly investigated or attacked the root causes of long waits.

"While many people are happy with the NHS and confident it provides a good service, professional classes, high earners and people from ethnic minority groups have less faith in the system.
Hospital ward
People worry about getting speedy access to care

"This faith must be regained for the NHS to remain a truly national system."

Mr Richard Rawlins, orthopaedic surgeon at Bedford Hospital and member of the BMA's consultative committee, said the NHS would never have enough cash to meet all the demands on it.

Mr Rawlins, who is standing as an independent candidate, said that some patients waiting for minor operations would need to decide whether the operation was important enough to them to pay.

"We have never had enough money in the kitty to meet our demands."

He said that for some patients and their families that would mean making personal sacrifices.

"But it is the kind of decision people are going to have to make."

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See also:

20 May 01 | Health
Nurses doubt future of 'free' NHS
18 May 01 | Health
Doctor quits 'shabby' NHS
04 May 01 | Health
NHS reforms look tarnished
24 Mar 01 | Health
Grim reality of the NHS
19 Mar 01 | Health
'NHS coped well this winter'
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