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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Tories offer private health funds
Surgery (generic)
The Tories say patients could chose their hospital
Patients would be able to get the government to pay 60% of their private healthcare bills under plans unveiled at the Conservative annual conference.

The party has already announced plans for a "patient passports" scheme to allow people to choose whether to get treatment from NHS hospitals, or help going private.

Now shadow health secretary Liam Fox has put a figure for the first time on how much cash a Tory government would offer.

Under the plans, patients would be able to take some of the money out of the NHS to help them go private

But Labour and the Liberal Democrats said the Tory plans showed they were intent not on reforming the NHS but abandoning it.

Health Secretary John Reid said the Conservatives wanted to make people pay not just for operations but also for other conditions.

"The Tories patients' passport means subsidising private operations for those who can already afford it," he said.

For the Lib Dems, health spokesman Evan Harris said: "This is a charter for those who go private to ask the NHS to pay half the bill.

"The NHS needs all the resources it can to treat those who have no recourse to the thousands of pounds needed to pay the balance of the cost."

But the Tories say they can both offer lower taxes and quality public services.

Dr Fox also announced plans to reduce the powers of the Department of Health.

Decisions on where to direct public money would be handed over to an independent board, offering greater transparency on health spending and stopping health funding being a "political football", he said.

It is not the government's money, it is taxpayers' money
Shadow health secretary Liam Fox

Dr Fox told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Whenever there is a by-election or a local election, suddenly politicians find the money for a new hospital they can bribe the voters with.

"I want to take that power away from politicians.

"We have a right as taxpayers to make sure the money we put into health is spent in a fair, justifiable and transparent way.

"It is not the government's money, it is taxpayers' money."

Labour's record

During his speech, Dr Fox attacked Labour's record on healthcare, saying it would take 62 years to clear the current NHS surgery backlog.

One per cent of all deaths in hospitals are now caused by infections acquired in hospitals, he will say.

Labour plans to allow patients to be able to choose a different hospital if they have to wait more than six months for elective surgery, such as hip replacements or cataracts.

We are the alternative and we are heading for government
Iain Duncan Smith

But Dr Fox said that would only give choice when the system has failed - and patients' choice of hospital would be limited to one other hospital.

The Tory scheme means people would be able to choose their hospital - going to Swindon if they live in Bristol, for example - from the moment they were referred for treatment by their GP.

If a patient wants to be treated at a different NHS hospital, the state would still meet the full cost of their operation - perhaps 5,000 for a hip replacement.

But if they want to go private for the operation, the NHS would still pay 60% of the cost - 3,000 for the same operation.

Paid taxes

It would "allow taxpayers who have already paid for their healthcare through their taxes to take some of that tax back with them if they choose to go elsewhere", Dr Fox told Today.

Helping people go privately would also take pressure off NHS waiting lists, Dr Fox added.

"If somebody takes their money under patient passport and decides they want to go privately that still leaves money behind in the NHS that would have been spent on them but fewer patients."

Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the independent board was an interesting proposal.

She said parliamentary accountability needed to be retained but added: "It would seem to be one way of reducing Whitehall micromanagement of the NHS."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"They [the conservatives] would pay up to 60 per cent for some patients private treatment"



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