Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT
Government has 'failed NHS'
Hospitals have been struggling to cope with increased workload
Government policy is to blame for the crisis in the NHS, it has been claimed.
Miss Widdecombe called on ministers to scrap their dogmatic approach, and to accept that private sector funding was needed to sustain a thriving health service.
But health secretary Frank Dobson claimed the Tories were simply trying to undermine the NHS for political reasons.
But Miss Widdecombe published a report on Monday in which she detailed examples of rationing that she claimed was already taking place.
"The health service is currently embroiled in one of the worst winter crises to hit our hospitals for many years."
Miss Widdecombe said the government had created a "climate of fear" among NHS bosses by insisting waiting lists be cut.
She quoted a ward manager from St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, who said there was a crisis in the health service, but it is now not just in the winter, it is now all the year through.
Miss Widdecombe said the public was "longing" for a "grown up" debate how best NHS resources were deployed. She said there "never were easy solutions" to the problems in the NHS, and it was wrong for government to suggest that there were.
"The fact is that until we have an honest and mature debate on rationing we are never going to tackle the increasing disillusionment that patients are feeling with our health service," she said.
"However much we put into the health service the fact is that public spending has never done it all, is not do it all, and will never do it," she said.
No better alternative
"This is about how fast patients get extra and better treatments, not about cuts and reductions," he said.
"What we have heard is the latest round in the endless attempts by the Tory right wing to decry and denigrate the NHS. They have always opposed it"
Mr Dobson said the public wanted to pay for the NHS through taxes, and wanted it to be free at the point of access.
"Nobody could deny that the NHS could always do with more resources than it is getting, but that is true of any other health system. Replacing our system would just mean unfairness and extra cost."
He said the government was investing in the NHS to end the lottery of unequal health care provision across the country.
Examples of rationing highlighted in Miss Widdecombe's report include:
The report also lists drugs and treatments that are being rationed, including:
The report concludes that modern healthcare innovations demanded by patients could not be funded by the Government by traditional means alone.
"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."
Former Conservative Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke joined the attack on Labour's handling of the NHS.
"After less than two years of Labour administration, the NHS is already coming under very much greater pressures and facing much bigger difficulties than most people in the service can remember for a very long time," he said.
"That is down to the folly of this Government and the fact that it has wasted its first two years without a proper policy and without facing up to what needs to be done."