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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK

'Even £10bn may not cure the NHS'

Tony Blair pledged a new future for the NHS

Simon Hughes talks about NHS finances
Ministers have been warned that even a £10bn cash injection may not be enough to solve the problems of the NHS.

Opposition politicians say the rumoured £10bn cash injection which the government is reporting to be planning for the NHS over the next three years may not be adequate to modernise it.

However health professionals have given a cautious welcome to government plans for a modernisation of the health service.

Announcing the creation of a NHS Modernisation Fund on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to be drawn on how much extra money would be pumped into the NHS.

Mr Blair told delegates at the NHS 50th anniversary conference in London that an announcement on the government's comprehensive spending review would be made in Parliament in two weeks. Health is thought to be first in line for extra funds.

He confined himself to promising that NHS funding would be increased year on year and stating that the NHS would get the funding it needed.

Mr Blair did confirm that NHS trusts and GP practices will be asked to bid for funds from the Modernisation Fund, which will be protected, and will be designed to promote innovation and good practice.

'They're just catching up'

[ image: Anne Widdecombe: Government should admit NHS problems are deep-seated]
Anne Widdecombe: Government should admit NHS problems are deep-seated
Shadow health secretary Anne Widdecombe welcomed more money for the NHS but called on ministers to admit the problems of the NHS were 'far more deep-seated than they realised.'

She said an extra £8bn was needed just to 'stand still'.

"Before we get carried away by more money, the sums that they are talking about are those that they would have to spend just to catch up with our average year on year increases. Don't let's look on this as purely extra money.

"Demand in the NHS is increasing at a phenomenal rate. It was set up with the rather naÔve view that demand would decline, but the reverse has happened. We now have to ask ourselves is it ever going to be possible to meet every last patient expectation.

"If the answer to that is no then there is a very serious debate to be had about prioritisation and how we manage a near infinite demand and certainly not infinite resources."

Desperate need for modernisation

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Simon Hughes said: "The NHS desperately needs modernisation money for information technology and the rest.

"The NHS needs 3% a year increase to stand still. You have to have a percentage above that. In a budget of £45bn, half a billion is 1%, and if you get £1.5bn a year that is 3%. You need to be above that - 4-5% a year over a parliament - to be able to do the sort of things that build for the future and do not just patch up the system at present.

"It is no good just having a pot people bid for and do not know whether they are going to get any money or not."

Patient centred care

Peter Homa, appointed by the government to find ways to cut waiting lists, said: "More money is necessary, but it is insufficient. The NHS has to capitalise on its talented staff, the creativity, the innovation that exists, to provide care in the most efficient, patient centred way."

[ image: Mark Jones: nurse morale will be boosted]
Mark Jones: nurse morale will be boosted
Mark Jones, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The commitment to provide more cash to improve services will increase doctors and nurses' morale.

"Nurses are at the forefront in terms of basing their practice on evidence based care on the latest research, and are pretty swift in terms of being able to demonstrate their value for money.

"If we can back that up with a new technologically based health service, as the Prime Minister seems to be indicating, we are pretty convinced that we can meet him perhaps more than half way in delivering the goods in terms of a health service for the next millennium." A recent survey of NHS staff showed that they were subjected to very high stress levels. A third of doctors showed real signs of stress and managers were under the most pressure.

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