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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Tax-funded NHS 'best'
Hospital ward scene
Tax rises to pay for healthcare are expected
An NHS paid for out of taxation is the best way to meet the cost of the nation's healthcare, Health Secretary Alan Milburn has said.

"The NHS is the best insurance policy you can have," he told health workers.

There isn't a health care system in the world that is cost-free

Alan Milburn

Studies had shown a tax-funded NHS was "fairer and more efficient" than private insurance, he said in a speech to NHS staff in London on Friday.

"Do we really want doctors in this country reaching for your wallet before they reach for your pulse?," he asked.

And he paved the way for tax rises expected in next week's budget.

Tax breaks

His comments came after a row erupted on Thursday over comments of Conservative shadow health secretary Liam Fox.

The Tory spokesman reportedly suggested that more patients should pay for medical treatment.

He told doctors at his party's spring conference in March that he wanted to give tax breaks to people who paid for private healthcare.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn addressed NHS staff in London

But Mr Milburn told his audience: "No-one can escape the simple reality that there isn't a health care system in the world that is cost-free".

He said the country faced a choice between lower taxes, spending and cutting services or the future of "sustained investment matched by fundamental reform."

A report on funding the NHS over the next 20 years by former bank chief Derek Wanless is due out this month.

In his preliminary report in November he concluded that general taxation was the best way to pay for the NHS.

Hospital visit

Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair has visited a hospital in Mr Milburn's constituency.

At Darlington Memorial Hospital on Friday, Mr Blair was told of staffing shortages.

Ward sister Maggie Donaghue told the prime minister that more nurses were needed now to solve the recruitment problems.

"We need to get the resources where we can to tide us over until the nurses come through the system," Mr Blair replied.

See also:

11 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Tories reignite health funds row
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Wanless 'open' to private finance
11 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Funding health care
10 Apr 02 | Health
Row over waiting list claims
27 Jul 00 | NHS reform
Six months: A realistic wait?
27 Jul 00 | NHS reform
Blair unveils NHS blueprint
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