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Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK


NHS blackhole 'could swallow billions'

Top quality surgery costs a lot of money

The NHS will be one of the main beneficiaries of the government's comprehensive spending review.

But as recent reports about the staggering potential cost of the impotence pill Viagra demonstrate, even massive new investment may not be enough to guarantee a five-star service into the next century.

It has widely been reported that the health service could receive at least £10bn in extra funding over the next three years when the Chancellor's long-awaited public spending plans are announced on Tuesday.

A pledge to cut waiting lists by 100,000 was a cornerstone of Tony Blair's election manifesto, but, despite billions having been pumped into the health service, the last official figures revealed a sharp increase in the number of people waiting for hospital treatment.

However, Health Secretary Frank Dobson recently stated that the numbers have begun to fall over the summer.

Mr Blair knows that Labour's ability to deliver on the NHS will be one of the most crucial measures of his government's success, and he is ready to raid the Treasury coffers to ensure Labour comes good on the health service.

In a keynote speech at the NHS 50th anniversary conference earlier this month, he promised year-on-year increases in NHS funding as part of the comprehensive spending review, but says the extra money comes at a price: the NHS must modernise.

Part of the extra cash will be ring-fenced in a new Modernisation Fund for which NHS organisations will have to bid.

Carrot and stick

Health groups have welcomed the offer of extra funds, but some are worried that the government appears to be adopting a 'carrot and stick' approach to health: rewarding those who do well and sending in hit squads for those who don't.

They fear this may lead to further demoralisation among workers at failing NHS trusts.

They are also worried that the government will attempt to dictate where the additional funds from the spending review will go.

Health charity, the King's Fund, fears political pressure will mean much will be spent on reducing waiting lists, at the expense of underfunded areas such as mental health.

[ image: Tony Blair is committed to a modern NHS]
Tony Blair is committed to a modern NHS
Mr Thornton said money was needed to replace equipment and buildings, to develop new services and to meet pay demands from NHS workers.

"Health authorities tell me there are two areas which need urgent investment," he said.

"Cancer services must be improved. We have agreed a pattern of provision across the country with the government, but we do not have the resources to implement it. We need improvements ranging from establishing cancer centres at our major hospitals to more appropriate palliative care for those who are dying.

"The second area is mental health. Services are in a pretty parlous state in many big cities. We need to invest in community mental teams. Care in the community is the right way to treat people but it cannot mean simply abandoning people - to do it properly costs money."

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07 Jul 98†|†Health
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