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banner Friday, 28 September, 2001, 06:52 GMT 07:52 UK
Labour's health 'blame game' attacked
A NHS hospital ward
The exodus of nurses and doctors worries the Lib Dems
Ministers are blaming NHS failures on demoralised doctors and nurses while taking the credit for the successes, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

Lib Dem health spokesman Evan Harris made the claims as the party's conference delegates in Bournemouth unanimously agreed a motion pressing for better pay and conditions for doctors and nurses.

This is a government that likes to centralise praise and decentralise blame

Evan Harris
Lib Dem health spokesman

With a policy debate beginning on the direction the party should take, some right-wingers in the party have attacked the motion for being more concerned with staff concerns than with patient needs.

Those backing the motion dismissed those claims, insisting care for patients could not improve if demoralised staff continued to leave the NHS.

Delivering longer waits

Dr Harris accused the Labour Party of delivering only longer waiting times to see a GP or specialist, to get treatment or a bed.

He claimed patients were being denied the effective treatments they needed through a system of back-door rationing.

"I can upon the health profession to recognise its duty of candour to patients, its duty not to play the government's 'Shift the blame game' and to inform patients exactly what treatments they would like to give them but don't have the funds and resources to do so."

Only then could patients have the information they needed to make informed choices on tax and investment when they voted.

Staff denied equipment

Accusing the government of not providing enough staff, beds or equipment, Dr Harris continued: "Truly, this is a government that likes to centralise praise and decentralise blame."

His motion included calls for a 1,000 pay increase for the lowest paid NHS staff, child care facilities in hospitals and for a levy on private healthcare organisations to reflect their reliance on NHS trained staff.

At a conference fringe meeting this week, former Lib Dem policy chief David Laws, now MP for Yeovil, attacked the conference motion for "showing our fixation only on the producer side".

He criticised the motion for including "26 references to staff doctors and nurses and only one to patients and that in the context of over-inflated patient expectations".

Party officials say that imbalance is only inevitable in a motion specifically on NHS staffing and while some see the debate as a fault line in the party, Mr Law's criticisms were not echoed in the conference debate.

That did not stop supporters of the motion from attacking the raising of such concerns.

Southport MP John Pugh said those using the "Thatcherite and Blairite" language of "producers and consumers" when talking about the NHS ought to pay money into a party swear box.

Missing the point

And Romsey MP Sandra Gidley said: "Someone somehow has missed the point. If we do not look after the staff that will leave the NHS and are leaving the NHS, it is the patient that suffers."

Other speakers stressed the extent of the demoralisation among hospital staff, with Lib Dem councillor Linda Seekings speaking of the "fear and tears" of nurses who wanted to do better but did not have the resources to do so.

Where there were criticisms of the motion, they came mainly from those who said it should also have called for more local democracy in the running of healthcare amid reports of "draconian" management by some NHS chiefs.

Meanwhile, a demand for the debate to be curtailed so the issue could be referred to the party's Federal Policy Committee was defeated without the request even being heard in full.

It dubbed the motion "insulting" to NHS staff, some of whom had not been mentioned, and claimed it ignored key problems, such as the fact that one of four nurses reach retirement age within five years.

The BBC's Jo Coburn
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See also:

26 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Claire Rayner film dropped by Lib Dems
26 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Lib Dems consider women-only lists
09 Jun 01 | Talking Point
Liberal Democrats - a new opposition?
06 Sep 01 | Health
Nursing needs a thorough re-think
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