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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 09:03 GMT


Rationing row hots up

Ann Widdecombe: "The government has conned the public"

Ministers have been challenged to admit that NHS rationing is inevitable by shadow health secretary Ann Widdecombe.

Miss Widdecombe released a Conservative Party report on Monday - ahead of a Commons debate on the NHS - on rationing she claimed was taking place in the NHS.

She said her evidence gave lie to an assurance from Health Minister Tessa Jowell last month that there was no rationing in the NHS.

"Her assurances now appear shallow and meaningless," said Miss Widdecombe.

However, Whitehall sources hit back, claiming Miss Widdecombe was deliberately trying to undermine public confidence in the NHS as a way to promote the involvement of the private sector in the health service.

Sources close to ministers said: "The Conservative Party is engaged in a secret, deliberate and cynical conspiracy to destroy the NHS.

"This is a deliberate decision taken after the election and a massive lurch to the right, ripping up the political consensus that has existed for 50 years."

[ image: Tessa Jowell denied rationing in the NHS]
Tessa Jowell denied rationing in the NHS
The sources claimed that Miss Widdecombe's stance was at odds with warnings made by the last Tory Secretary of State, Stephen Dorrell.

Miss Widdecombe said Labour had conned voters before the general election by promising to solve the problems in the NHS once in government.

"The time has come for Labour to stop being ideological," she said.

"The Government must admit that rationing exists, only then can a mature debate into health service funding begin."

NHS on its knees

Miss Widdecombe claimed the "winter crisis" in hospitals was "bringing the health service to its knees as a result of the fundamental problems Labour have created since they came to power".

In her report, Miss Widdecombe outlines examples of the impact of rationing in the NHS. These include:

  • Patients dying while waiting on hospital trolleys;
  • Bodies being kept in refrigerated lorries in Norwich and Derbyshire;
  • The transport of an elderly patient with a potentially fatal respiratory infection 150 miles from Hemel Hempstead to Somerset;
  • Relatives being asked to provide basic nursing care for loved ones at two Portsmouth hospitals.

The report also lists drugs and treatments that are being rationed, including:

  • Beta-interferon, used to treat multiple sclerosis
  • Anti-psychotics such as Risperidone and Olanzapine
  • Anti-cancer drugs Taxol, Ironotecan and Gemcitabine
  • Non-acute varicose vein operations.

The report concluded that modern healthcare innovations demanded by patients could not be funded by the Government by traditional means alone.

"That means we have to stop being ideological. This Labour government likes to speak glibly of bringing down `Berlin Walls' in our health service," the report says.

"But at the same time it is digging a Grand Canyon between the public and private health sectors. They still just can't bring themselves to accept that private medicine has benefits for the whole community.

"The Government must admit that rationing exists. Only then can the mature debate into health service funding begin."

The motion to be debated in the Commons says "excessive political concentration on waiting lists" has been largely responsible for a winter crisis "over which the Government appears wholly complacent and unconcerned".

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