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Carole Walker reports
"The Prime Minister admitted there were failings, and he had no immediate solutions"
 real 28k

Prime Minister Tony Blair talks to Sir David Frost
"There are fundamental problems that we need to address"
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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Until now, ministers insisted the system is coping"
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Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"We know there are problems, everybody accepts that"
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Stephen Thornton, NHS Confederation
"We're having to deal with so many unprecedented cost pressures"
 real 28k

Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 18:55 GMT
Blair admits NHS is underfunded

Tony Blair: We are trying to put things right

Tony Blair has admitted the health service has fundamental problems and has promised more cash to rebuild it.

In an interview with BBC One's Breakfast with Frost, he said NHS spending should match that of other EU countries in five years.

Flu nightmare
But patients' groups say many people do not have the time to wait.

And the Conservative leader, William Hague, accused Mr Blair of breaking his word.

The government has been facing severe criticism from politicians, health professionals and the public over its handling of the health service.

Grade E nurses to get pay rise of more than 1,000
An outbreak of winter flu has exposed serious weaknesses in the system with doctors and nurses being stretched to the limit.

Thousands of people have had their operations cancelled as hospitals scrapped routine surgery to cope with a flood of emergency admissions.

Mr Blair insisted that pressing on with NHS modernisation and investing more money - without rises in income tax - was the way to rebuild the service.

"It's undoubtedly true that we're getting extra resources into the health service - just look at the overall percentage increases.

I'm not going to sit here and say there aren't problems in the NHS because there are
Tony Blair
"If we carry on for the next lot of spending rounds, getting that extra money in, we will make a substantial difference.

"We will bring it up to the European Union average in time."

The prime minister admitted the measures required to improve the NHS would take years to have an effect.

William Hague accused government of 'total failure'
He said:"In the short term we have got to get more intensive care beds and to bring more nurses back into the National Health Service.

"I'm not going to sit here and say there aren't problems in the NHS because there are and we've got to put them right."

Tory leader William Hague said the crisis in the health service amounted to a stark and total failure of the government's policies.

Appearing on the BBC One's On the Record he accused Labour of mismanagement and betraying its basic promises to cut hospital waiting lists.

However Mr Blair did signal above inflation pay rises for all nurses- with the biggest increases for those at the top of their profession.

He said 60,000 Grade E nurses would receive an annual pay rise of more than 1,000 when the health pay awards are announced on Monday.

As a country we need to spend a larger share of our national income on health
William Hague
Mr Blair said curing the NHS's ills was not just a question of resources - the structure of the health service also needed reforming.

He said he had inherited a very difficult situation from the last Conservative government.

"There is no easy way out of rebuilding the health service other than more money into it, plus the change and reform and modernisation."

However he insisted that private health insurance was not the answer to the NHS's problems and that many people would be unable to afford it.

"The idea that private health care is going to help us when two thirds of the patients in hospital beds are over 65 - it's an illusion," he said.

Tax cut remains

Fertility expert and Labour peer Lord Winston caused government anguish last week when he criticised Labour's handling of the health service.

An opinion poll in Sunday's Observer suggested 76% of people want ministers to ditch this April's 1p income tax cut and re-direct the savings into health.

Mavis Skeet's cancer is now inoperable
Mr Blair ruled out the move, but acknowledged action was needed on beds and nurses, while asking people to keep the problems in perspective.

He expressed his concern about the case of Mavis Skeet, whose operation for throat cancer was cancelled four times in five weeks because of bed shortages.

Doctors at Leeds General Infirmary now say the 73-year-old's condition is inoperable.

Answering her daughter Jane's plea for more NHS resources, the prime minister said: "I accept responsibility to make sure that the situation that occurred in respect of her mother does not recur."

Mike Stone, director of the Patients Association, welcomed Mr Blair's promise to inject more cash into the NHS.

He said: "We have been saying for a while that there should be more money put in and it has got to be managed properly.

"But one of the things which concerned us was that he kept asking for more time. There are a lot of patients who are waiting for life-saving operations and they have not got time."

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See also:
16 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Health insurance 'can ease NHS strain'
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Cool reception for Blair's NHS pledge
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16 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
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People are suffering, admits Blair

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