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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 12:20 GMT
Winston calls for NHS spending pledge

Lord Winston has called for extra funds for the NHS

Lord Winston has stepped back into the fray over NHS funding - challenging Tony Blair to give a firm commitment on massive spending increases.

It's ludicrous that we spend so much less than the European model
Lord Winston
In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week, Lord Winston agreed that bringing the UK's spending on health up to the EU average should be a pledge rather than an aspiration.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had appeared to give that commitment the previous weekend, but later stressed that this was only achievable if the economy remained strong.

If this July when we work out the next three year period, after that three year period we can carry on getting real terms rises in the health service of almost 5%, then at the end of that five years we will be in a position where our health service spending comes up to the average of the European Union. It's too low at the moment - so we'll bring it up to there.
Tony Blair, Sunday 16 Jan
Asked whether the spending should be a definite pledge and not dependent on the economy, Lord Winston said: "I think that's fair. I think that's a fair comment in a fair society."

Lord Winston's criticisms of the government's handling of the NHS in an earlier New Statesman interview sparked a political row.

His subsequent attempt to retract his comments led to claims that he had been following the orders of Downing Street.

Lord Winston, a fertility expert, denied this, saying: "Nobody's got to me."

He described the UK's current health spend as "ludicrous", dismissing claims that the European health systems consume more money only because they are less efficiently run.

The UK currently spends 6.8% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, while the EU average is 8% - although analysts from health charity the King's Fund claim it is 8.6%.

To match this, the UK would have to spend upwards of 11bn - real terms rises of 5% every year for the next five years.

The King's Fund warned that spending on that scale would require cutbacks in other ministerial budgets.

At Prime Minister's Questions last week, Tony Blair told the House of Commons that he "stood by" what he had said on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost the previous weekend.

On that programme, he said that the UK's health spend was "too low" compared to the EU average, adding: "We'll bring it up to there."

When questioned on the timetable, he confirmed the five-year figure.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said later, when asked if the premier would meet Lord Winston: "Robert Winston is somebody for whom the Prime Minister has a very high regard and he's always interested in seeking the views of people who are experts in their field."

On Government policy, the spokesman added: "There is a clear strategy, which is extra resources tied to modernisation and reform.
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See also:
13 Jan 00 |  Health
Winston backtracks over NHS
16 Jan 00 |  Health
Blair pledges health cash boost
18 Jan 00 |  Health
The health gap - Britain and Europe
18 Jan 00 |  Health
Health gap 'even bigger than thought'
04 Nov 99 |  Health
NHS in crisis: Special report
14 Jan 00 |  Health
NHS funding row grows
16 Jan 00 |  Health
Blair admits NHS is underfunded

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