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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Tories unveil plans for NHS
Operating theatre
NHS funds could be used in the private sector
The Conservatives have unveiled their vision of an NHS free of political control and with a greater choice for patients.

At the heart of their proposals is a "patient's passport" which, the Tories say, would entitle people to have their treatment paid for at any NHS hospital.

The scheme would also allow patients to take "all or part of the cost of their NHS treatment to the voluntary or private hospital of their choice".

Iain Duncan Smith described the plans as a "revolution", which would ensure that everyone got treatment according to need rather than ability to pay.

Tory proposals
Remove political interference from NHS
Patient choice over hospitals
Encourage voluntary and private sector investment
Allow patients to take NHS funds to private sector

It is one of the key planks of Mr Duncan Smith's "Fair Deal" policies for the UK's public services, which are expected to form the centrepiece of the Tories' next election campaign.

A spokesman for health charity the King's Fund said the Tory proposals put "the principle of equity at risk" with the more wealthy likely to use the NHS passport.

But launching the plans, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Our proposals will mean fairer healthcare, with no-one left behind, as we expand choice to everyone, not just those who can afford it."

'Open-minded'

The Tories said the patient's passport would most help pensioners who were among the 300,000 people in the UK who paid for their operations last year - a trebling of the 1997 levels.

Mr Duncan Smith insisted that the founding ideals of the NHS - care provided according to need, not ability to pay and free at the point of delivery - would be preserved.

Liam Fox
Fox: NHS needs 'radical reform'
"For the first time in its history, the NHS would become a truly national health service - embracing our belief that healthcare is first and foremost about the patient," he said.

"We care enough to find out what people really want, and we are open-minded enough to find out what really works."

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox said that without "fundamental and radical reform" the NHS would never come up to the standards commonly enjoyed in the rest of the EU.

"It is now obvious that, however much money is thrown at the current system, it will never produce the quality of healthcare many of our European neighbours take for granted.

"Unless there is fundamental and radical reform, the NHS will never produce the quality of care we have a right to expect."

Freedom

Dr Fox added that due to its divisions over the role of the private sector in delivering public services, Labour was unable to deliver the necessary reforms.

"Our experience convinced us that we must undertake far-reaching reform on three broad fronts: taking politicians out of running the NHS; giving real freedom to health professionals; and ensuring patients have a real choice in health."

The Tory policy document outlines how the party wants an increase in health spending, with a greater proportion of that coming from sources other than the state.

That will widely be seen as an intention to increase the role of the private sector in Britain's healthcare.

The document says that if 300,000 patients did not opt to pay for their care "they would still be on NHS waiting lists".

It added: "It is doubtful that the NHS could cope with that extra demand. By paying for their own treatment elsewhere they also relieve the NHS of the burden of that treatment, shortening the queue for others."

'Death knell'

For the Liberal Democrats, Evan Harris said: "This passport is a passport out of the NHS and into the private sector for the fortunate few who can afford to pay the extra.

"The Tories already propose spending less on the health service so this would be the death knell for a comprehensive and universally free NHS."

Steve Dewar, policy director of the Kings Fund, a charity which campaigns for a better health service said: "Undoubtedly, patients must be offered more choice when it comes to their health care.

"This means training more doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

"The Conservatives' proposals will not do this and, at worse, may act as a distraction to the long-term goal of alleviating recruitment and retention problems in the NHS."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The patients' passport isn't a new idea of Iain Duncan Smith's, but one he believes the public are ready for"



SEE ALSO:
NHS 'missing key targets'
05 Jun 03  |  Health
Tory leader predicts Blair's demise
09 May 03  |  Politics
Q&A: Modernising the NHS
04 Jun 03  |  Health


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