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EDITIONS
Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 08:52 GMT
Blair echoes tax rise hints
Health service staff
The divide is growing over health funding
Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear he is considering tax hikes as he stressed the need to give the NHS a substantial increase in resources.

Mr Blair's show of support for Chancellor Gordon Brown's tax hints included a repeat of his promise to take the UK up to the European average on healthcare spending.


You've condemned patients to wait longer, suffer more and die earlier than our neighbours in Europe

Iain Duncan Smith
The prime minister clashed in the Commons with Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who accused Labour of failing to press ahead with much needed reform.

The Tory leader said Labour's 1997 election slogan that there were "24 hours to save the NHS" had now changed "to 24 years" following Mr Brown's pre-Budget report on Tuesday.

The prime minister hit back, accusing the Conservatives of wanting to end the principle that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery.

Bridging the gap

He was asked by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy whether it was still his aim for the UK to match the EU health spending average by 2005.

Mr Blair replied: "Of course it is, which is precisely the point of what the Chancellor was announcing yesterday."

The UK currently spends just under 7% of GDP on health, compared to the EU average of 7.9%.

Gordon Brown
Brown's hints have prompted a new war of words
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says meeting the target would cost another 10bn a year on top of Tuesday's announcements.

But the Conservatives say the NHS needs reform, not just more money.

Mr Duncan Smith argued Mr Brown's report "handcuffed the government to the whole status quo and the state monopoly".

'Sops to vested interests'

While Mr Brown had talked of forging a consensus on healthcare, the only consensus was between ministers and their trade union friends who wanted to protected vested interests, said Mr Duncan Smith.

Pointing at growing waiting lists in casualty wards and other areas, the opposition leader said: "You've condemned patients to wait longer, suffer more and die earlier than our neighbours in Europe."

The Commons exchange offers a foretaste of what could be a key battleground at the next general election.

Mr Blair's comments will fuel speculation that Labour could go to the polls on a tax-raising platform for the first time since 1992.


We as a country will have to put more money in - I don't rule out tax rises for the future

Gordon Brown
The prime minister countered the Tory attack, saying: "We believe in an NHS system that is funded out of general taxation, free at the point of use.

"The purpose of the Conservatives is that people are forced to pay for the treatment they have."

Payments warning

He produced a leaked memo from shadow health secretary Liam Fox to shadow chancellor Michael Howard.

Mr Blair said the document included plans for those who could afford it make some payment towards their healthcare.

Click here to see the key pre-Budget announcements at-a-glance

The prime minister acknowledged there was much still "a great deal" to some areas of the NHS.

But the improvements were already coming on stream in a series of vital areas, such as tackling cancer, continued Mr Blair, pointing at overall waiting list figures.

Downing Street earlier said the prime minister "absolutely agrees" with the chancellor that tax rises cannot be ruled out.

In his pre-Budget report, Mr Brown announced an extra 1bn for the NHS next year but said in future a "significantly higher share of national income" would have to be found to fund a "world class" health service.

The prospect of higher taxes, which has been seized on by the Conservatives, was prompted after the government-commissioned Wanless Report concluded the NHS would be best funded by public money.

But the Tories say the remit of that report meant the result was fixed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Your taxes will go up"
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown
"I do not rule out tax rises"
Dr Peter Hawker, British Medical Association
"This is a long-term project that is vital to the health of the nation"
The BBC's Justin Webb
compares Germany's health service to the NHS
The government's pre-Budget report will be on 27 Novewmber


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See also:

28 Nov 01 | UK Politics
27 Nov 01 | Business
27 Nov 01 | UK
28 Nov 01 | Business
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