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banner Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Tory health pledges: Analysis
The Tories say their policies will improve health services
The Tories say their policies will improve health services
The Conservative Party's pledge to encourage patients to take up private health insurance is based on the opinion that the NHS can only do so much.

Dr Liam Fox, the party's health spokesman, told the Tory Conference that it was time to be honest with patients.

He said there was "no endless flow of money" for the health service and that the private sector would have to play a bigger role if health care was to improve.

Dr Fox outlined his vision of a health service that included both the NHS and the private sector.

This vision would see more patients taking out medical cover and private hospitals caring for more patients.

The Tories believe that their policy would reduce waiting lists and enable patients to be seen more quickly.

This is based on the belief that patients who could afford to pay insurance premiums would not have to seek treatment on the NHS. Instead, they would be cared for by private sector hospitals.

In turn, this reduction in demand on the NHS would reduce waiting lists and allow patients who cannot afford to go private to be seen more quickly.

It will mean NHS doctors will be doing more work in private hospitals

Professor Alan Maynard, Univeresity of York

Similarly, the reduction in demand would enable NHS hospitals to spend more time and to devote more of their resources to operations on patients with life-threatening conditions.

Tax alternative

The Tories say their proposals are an alternative to raising taxes to fund the NHS. They cite the recent fuel protest as evidence that taxpayers do not want to pay any more to the Treasury.

They add that many people already pay extra for private education and that they should also be willing to pay more for healthcare.

However, the Labour Party says it is privatisation of the NHS. Health Secretary Alan Milburn said the policy would create a two-tier health service where people were pushed to the back of the queue unless they were able to pay.

Professor Alan Maynard, from the Health Economics Unit at the University of York said the policy could cause problems.

"In the short term, the big problem is the limited number of doctors in the system as a whole.

"It you increase the size of the private sector you will move doctors out of the public sector.

"It may have some impact on waiting lists but it will mean NHS doctors will be doing more work in private hospitals. You will be dragging them away and perhaps making them less productive in the public sector."

Dr Fox has pledged a "shake-up" of the health insurance market to make it easier for patients to take out cover.

He acknowledged that some policies offered by some companies are inflexible, confusing and put people off.

But he said the Tories would take steps to ensure it was easier for people to sign up to the policies they needed.

He added that the party would, if elected, work to make health insurance more attractive to the public.

The Conservative Party says widening the money available to health services in general - both the NHS and the private sector - in this way, will help the NHS to deliver and will also benefit patients.

Dr Fox told party delegates: "A bigger cake benefits everyone."

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See also:

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Health insurance 'can ease NHS strain'
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