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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Big boost for the NHS
There were few surprises for the NHS in this year's spending review.

Chancellor Gordon Brown made hardly any mention of health in his spending review speech to MPs.

This was because he had already spelt out government spending plans for the health service for the next six years in his April Budget.

Under the government's plans, health spending will rise from 65.4bn in 2002 to 87.2bn in 2006. By 2008, spending will total 105.6bn.

Mr Brown's decision to spell out his spending plans for health followed a review of the NHS by former NatWest chief executive Derek Wanless.

His report suggested the NHS would need a massive injection of cash over the next 20 years if it is to meet growing patient demand.

Derek Wanless
Mr Wanless called for a major increase in NHS spending
That pledge was widely welcomed on the government's backbenches.

However, others have warned that more fundamental changes are needed and that money is not the only answer.

The Conservative Party has suggested that the way the health service is managed needs to be changed before the extra billions are made available.

Doctors too have expressed caution, pointing to the record of the NHS in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, where health spending is higher than in England but the net results have been the similarly poor.

Report warning

But Mr Brown is clear. In his Budget statement, he said the extra billions would "secure our national health service, not just for a year or two, but for the long term".

The Wanless report, commissioned by the chancellor, concluded that the health service had been grossly underfunded for decades.

It suggested that government health spending should more than double by 2022 to 184bn per year or a projected 12.5% of GDP.

Mr Wanless envisaged a NHS without waiting lists within 20 years. Under his plans, patients would wait a maximum of two weeks to see a hospital doctor or to have an operation.

Hospitals would be clean, efficient and have state-of-the-art medical equipment.

Shared vision

Mr Brown, by committing the government to the Wanless spending targets for the next six years at least, appears to share that vision.

However, the chancellor has been less forthcoming on calls to pay for the free long term personal care of elderly people in England.

The policy is being introduced in Scotland but as yet there are no signs that government will back down on its claims that the move would prove too expensive in England.

If that view was to change, the spending review speech would be as good an opportunity as any to announce it. However, few are expecting a government U-turn in this area.

Instead, Mr Brown is most likely to use the speech to reiterate the government's commitment to improving the NHS.

After all, Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged significant improvements in the performance of the NHS across the UK by the time of the next general election.

But while the backbenchers will applaud, others will be looking to see if the huge boost in health spending will put a squeeze on other public services or taxpayers' pockets.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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At the sharp end



See also:

17 Apr 02 | Health
17 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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17 Apr 02 | Health
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