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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK


NHS cash: unfiddling the figures

Was it the biggest ever investment in the NHS or hype and hyperbole? Was it an extra £18 billion or £2 billion? The NHS figures debate rumbles on. The BBC's Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford looks for the truth behind the statistics.

Inevitably, any government wants to put the best gloss possible on its figures. Certainly, the Conservatives did it regularly with their announcements - and now the Labour party is doing the same thing.

The Health Secretary Frank Dobson claims the NHS will receive £21bn over the next three years - the bulk of which, £18bn, will go to England alone.

That figure is made up of a £3bn increase in the first year; that £3bn (as a recurring element in the budget) and another £3bn in the second year; and that £6bn (again recurring) and another £3bn billion in the third year.

And stripping out the effects of inflation reduces the sum still further - making the real terms increase in England just over £2bn each year, or about £7bn over the three years.

Modernisation fund

However, there's also concern about the way the new Modernisation Fund will operate.

Totalling some £5bn over three years, it won't be automatically given to the NHS.

Instead, health authorities, hospitals, and community clinics will have to apply for the money to fund specific projects.

And that's important because it allows the government to retain control over the cash. Indeed, it may not spend it all.

If the Modernisation Fund is taken out of the equation, as well as the recurring factor, the pot of cash dwindles even further down to £2bn. This may be where Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe gets her figures from.

Frontline services

On Thursday, the government announced that £300m would be spent in Scotland on frontline services and to cut the waiting list, and £40m to fund a walk in walk out treatment centre in Glasgow.

In England, cash will be used to recruit 7,000 new doctors, 15,000 more nurses, and fund more training places for both professions.

There will be more announcements over the coming weeks concerning the extra money as ministers are keen to get the maximum amount of publicity for what they see as a political triumph.

However, the row over the figures is bound to continue as more information filters out of the Department of Health.

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