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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Tories reignite health funds row
Hospital ward scene
Tories insist no policy change has been made
Conservative shadow health secretary Liam Fox has defended his suggestion that more patients should pay for medical treatment.

The Tory spokesman told doctors at his party's spring conference in Harrogate he wanted to give tax breaks to people who paid for private healthcare, according to a newspaper report.


What I want to make sure is that the quality of the NHS improves by looking at what's done in other countries

Liam Fox
Tory spokesman
Chief secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith says it showed the Tories are determined to "destroy" the NHS.

But Dr Fox said the Conservatives were "open minded" about how to improve British healthcare when much of the NHS was not working.

No decisions had yet been taken on Tory health policy, said the MP, and the party continued to look at systems used overseas.

It is the MP's reported comments to a fringe meeting at the March conference in Harrogate that have sparked controversy.

The health spokesman is quoted in the Mirror newspaper as saying: "The big growth market in the United Kingdom is people paying from their own savings.

Liam Fox, Conservative health spokesman
The Tories have toured Europe looking at other health systems
"Whether it be through insurance or self-pay, we should be looking as a party at the views of other countries in terms of tax incentives."

The Conservatives should look at helping those willing to "offload the state" and reduce the burden on others, he explained to the Conservative Medical Society.

Funding healthcare from a "single stream" - which Labour favours through its focus on general taxation - was "unacceptable", he reportedly said.

Dr Fox defended his remarks on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday.

'NHS not working'

A range of options for funding healthcare were used in European countries where patients got better medical treatment, he said.

"It does seem extraordinary to me that when the NHS is not working in many aspects that the government should be saying that the British way is the only acceptable approach for us," continued Dr Fox.

In the last year, the number of people paying for healthcare had risen by 29% because the NHS was not providing the service they wanted, he said.

Andrew Smith, Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Andrew Smith says the Tories want to abolish the NHS
Dr Fox said he did not believe in "compulsion" but pointed to Australia's use of tax incentives to bring more money into health care.

Critics argue encouraging private healthcare only creates a two-tier service for patients and diverts trained staff away from the NHS.

The Tory spokesman said: "In this country if you can afford to escape it, whether it is buying a hip operation or separate jabs for MMR, we have a two tier system.

More funds sources

"What I want to make sure is that the quality of the NHS improves by looking at what's done in other countries, to replicate that in Britain."

He also wanted "to see how we can bring in a wider stream of funding" as that was the main difference in health spending between Britain and other nations.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is joining Dr Fox on a visit to a London medical centre on Thursday, has insisted the party's health policy remains under review.

Labour's Andrew Smith said: "Liam Fox did not deny saying that the Conservatives have a clear strategy to convince people that the NHS 'won't work and can't work'."

"It is now clearer than ever before that the Tories are determined to abolish the NHS as we know it and force patients to take out insurance and pay charges for health care."

Chancellor Gordon Brown has said the government sees the NHS as the cheapest and most efficient method of providing treatment.

And with the debate on health funding a key political battleground, the government argues general taxation is the way to pay for more investment in healthcare.

Mr Brown is widely expected to raise taxes to pay for an improved service when he delivers his Budget next week.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox
"We're determined to be open-minded about the whole debate on health"
The BBC's John Pienaar
"It's an insight into the thinking of the Tory party"
See also:

11 Apr 02 | UK Politics
10 Apr 02 | Health
27 Jul 00 | NHS reform
27 Jul 00 | NHS reform
Internet links:


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