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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Call to 'set hospitals free'
Liam Fox
Dr Fox wants to hand control back to professionals

The Tories have outlined radical new health policies which they believe will win them the next general election.


Frankly, I wouldn't let a politician run my bath, never mind my health service

Liam Fox

Tory health spokesman Liam Fox has pledged to end political interference in the NHS and hand control back to the professionals.

He said wanted to grant every hospital the power to raise its own funds and manage its own budget.

And he plans to offer incentives such as tax breaks to people who take out private health insurance or who pay for their own care.

The Tories hope that the new proposals for funding, modelled on the same Spanish system Labour has based its latest policies on, will end claims that they are out to privatise the service.

Charges ruled-out

Although hospitals will be able to raise cash however they want, they will be barred from charging patients for treatment.

Hospital managers would also be able to negotiate local pay rates and conditions of work.

Dr Fox ruled out charging for care but said people who failed to turn up for appointments, "used emergency services in an inappropriate way" or used ambulances as a "taxi service", would be charged.

He also pledged to "dramatically cut the size of the NHS bureaucracy" - and end political interference.

He told the Tory conference in Bournemouth: "The NHS has been a political football for far too long.

"I don't want politicians deciding which patients should be treated and when. "Frankly, I wouldn't let a politician run my bath, never mind my health service."

'Immoral' Labour

He said he also wanted to "slay" the government's "obsessive target culture".


Alan Milburn is breaking ground for us in a way that will make further reforms easier

Liam Fox
"Only last week I spoke to a plastic surgeon who wanted to pilot a new scheme to improve the early detection of skin cancer.

"But he was told he couldn't do it. This would increase the number of those waiting for minor procedures.

"What a shameful, unethical and immoral way to run a health service."

Cabinet splits

Dr Fox said the Tory proposals were based on the same model as Labour's Foundation Hospitals plan.

But - in a clear bid to exploit cabinet differences on the policy - Dr Fox said Labour did not go nearly far enough down the road of autonomy.

"The concept of Foundation Hospitals goes clearly in a direction with which a future Conservative government would be comfortable.

"It is a concept we would want to dramatically expand.

"Indeed, Alan Milburn is breaking ground for us in a way that will make further reforms easier - which is why it is so important that Gordon Brown's objections are overridden."

'Ideological' objections

Chancellor Gordon Brown is understood to be unwilling to hand complete financial independence to hospitals.

He is thought to be unhappy with allowing hospitals managers to borrow cash on the financial markets.

Dr Fox said the three things that made Foundation Hospitals work in Spain - the ability to set their own pay and conditions, freedom to develop their own technology and freedom to borrow - had been ruled out by Labour on "ideological grounds".

Milburn reaction

As well as offering incentives for patients to go private, the Tories would also "help" people forced to use their savings to pay for care.

He said: "Labour believe that it is morally unacceptable to allow people to buy better care for themselves or their families using private income.

"But what is really morally unacceptable is that people should be forced to use their own savings to escape from a system they have contributed to all their working lives.

"Yet that is what is increasingly happening in this country."

Dr Fox's proposals were labelled "extreme" by Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

"The Conservatives have made clear they now stand full square against the NHS principle of treatment according to need not ability to pay," he said.


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06 Oct 02 | Politics
05 Oct 02 | Politics
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07 Oct 02 | Politics
04 Oct 02 | Politics
07 Oct 02 | Health
07 Oct 02 | Education
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