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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 17:02 GMT
No help for 'cash-strapped NHS'
Gordon Brown said nurses would get above inflation pay rises
NHS trusts struggling to balance their books were offered no help in dealing with predicted record deficits in Gordon Brown's 10th Budget.

The only promise the Chancellor made was to increase nursing pay above the average public sector pay of 2.25%.

Conservative leader David Cameron said the NHS deficit had reached 1bn despite Mr Brown doubling spending.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said operations were being cancelled, wards closed and jobs lost.

Highlighting the issue in his Budget response, Mr Cameron said: "You can tell how big the crisis in the health service is. The health service didn't even get a mention."

Medical research

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has staked her job on bringing the NHS back into financial balance by the end of the next financial year.

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Treasury officials are also reported to have warned NHS bosses that they will have to tighten their belts in the coming years.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley accused Mr Brown of "abandoning the NHS".

"When Gordon Brown spoke of his investment priorities, the NHS was not among them.

"When he spoke of the British people's priorities, the NHS was not among them.

"Faced with the evidence of the failure of his billions to deliver corresponding improvements for patients, Gordon Brown had nothing to say."

But Mike Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance which represents primary care providers, said he was not surprised that Mr Brown did not provide any extra resources to help with deficits.

Nurses' anger

He suggested the Chancellor would want to see that primary care trusts and hospitals had proper financial management in place before promising more investment.

Mr Dixon suggested that more money might be forthcoming in the next comprehensive spending review.

However, Mr Brown did pledge to give nurses above inflation pay rises higher than other public sector workers.

The Chancellor said public sector pay settlements would average at 2.25% "combining fairness in pay", but promised "more for nurses".

No further details of a pay deal were given, however.

Nurses leaders had been pushing for above inflation pay rises.

The current rate of inflation is 2% but the Royal College of Nursing says this does not reflect the cost of mortgages.

'No reassurance'

Its general secretary Dr Beverly Malone said only a significant pay increase, above inflation, would diffuse nurses' anger and help improve recruitment and retention.

"Not only are nurses angry about pay, they are deeply concerned about the financial crisis facing the NHS.

"In trusts across the country nursing posts are under threat as deficits take hold. Yet, today, the Chancellor failed to offer any reassurance to nurses.

"Gordon Brown's speech did nothing to suggest a continued focus on investment in the NHS. It also did nothing to rule out the threat of further nursing redundancies - and the real damage this will have on patient services."

'Fair pay'

Dr Sam Everington, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association expressed dismay that Mr Brown failed to make a specific commitment on doctors' pay.

He said: "Doctors equally deserve a fair pay award that reflects their hard work and commitment to bringing down waiting times for patients and innovating new treatments of care."

Mr Brown also said government funding for scientific medical research, through the Medical Research Council, and NHS research would be combined in a single budget worth at least 1 billion.

He said a research institute modelled on America's National Institutes of Health would be set up once a agreement could be reached on the best way forward.

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