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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Lib Dems slam NHS 'false choices'
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy: Outlined Lib Dem plans
People are more interested in "first class" local schools and hospitals than "false choices", the Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy has said.

The Tories and Tony Blair last week both outlined plans to offer people more choice in public services.

But for most people, Mr Kennedy said, the overwhelming priority "is quality local provision of a service when they need it. Something they can rely on".

He attacked Mr Blair for using choice as a smokescreen to hide NHS failures.

"False choice is an acceptance of failure - the failure of Labour's spending plans, targets and tick-box culture," Mr Kennedy said in speech at Liberal Democrat headquarters in London on Tuesday.

He added: "False choice is trying to use market forces to hide failure."

'False god'

Using choice as "the panacea for reform" was "downright misleading", he said.

"In the NHS, if you or your child or your elderly parent suffers from a heart attack, you don't want choice of treatment," Mr Kennedy said in the speech outlining his party's public service proposals.

"You want a quality ambulance service, to take you to a quality hospital, with quality doctors and nurses to treat to you immediately.

"You don't want to know at that point of maximum need there is a three-star hospital available 50 miles away - choice in such circumstances is meaningless."

Choice in education was also a "false god", he said slamming Labour's plans to introduce Foundation Schools where the best establishments would be given more autonomy from Whitehall control.

Likening selective schools to football clubs he suggested such a system would hand more choice to the schools not the parents.

For the Conservatives, the 'choice' mantra is a mask. It's a way of disguising their real agenda.
Charles Kennedy

"Aspiring footballers may apply to a choice of clubs but that choice is illusory, Manchester United will ruthlessly select the best on its own criteria," Mr Kennedy said.

Those left out were the "very children from the very schools the Government claims to be aiming to help", he added.

Labour and the Conservatives were using "choice" to divert voters from the real issues.

Under Labour, he argued, billions has been wasted on "centralised management and political targets".

"The improvements are slow in coming. So now the prime minister is afraid to mention quality because he needs a distraction from his record of delivery. Instead he talks of false choice.

"For the Conservatives, the 'choice' mantra is a mask. It's a way of disguising their real agenda."

Micromanagement

"Michael Howard is proposing to spend billions on subsidising people to opt out of the NHS and attend independent schools at the tax-payers' expense... this is choice for the few maybe, but not choice for all."

But Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the Lib Dems were missing the point on the choice debate.

"They say that they will be focusing on 'quality' rather than 'choice' without recognising that standards will only rise if people are offered real choice over the hospital they are treated in," Mr Lansley said.

The Lib Dems would bring in more than 5bn investment by scrapping schemes by axing unnecessary central government departments and functions.

They would end the Child Trust Fund and invest the 1bn saved into early years education.

In the health service, the Lib Dems would create a clear, "secure funding system" by replacing National Insurance with an ear-marked National Health Contribution.

It would also end the micromanagement by Whitehall of hospitals and GP surgeries, Mr Kennedy added.

To ensure quality, public service staff would be "liberated" to get on with their jobs and local services would be enabled to respond to local needs.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Charles Kennedy, Lib Dems leader
"Big amounts of money in education and health, don't make their way to the front line"



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