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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 10:14 GMT
Brown 'silence' on NHS criticised
Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown is facing criticism for not doing enough for the NHS in his Budget after a hospital announced job cuts - the fourth to do so in a week.

The chancellor's 10th Budget saw a big rise in school funding in England, but Tories said he had abandoned the NHS.

On Wednesday the Royal Free Hospital in London said it was cutting 480 jobs and 100 beds in a bid to save 25m.

Mr Brown defended himself, saying he had already announced an extra 6bn for the NHS over the next two years.

"I do not re-announce things in the Budget," he told BBC News.

More than 2,000 job cuts have been announced at UK hospitals in the past week.

But the chancellor insisted the problems only affected a small number of NHS trusts, who had to sort out their problems.

Pointing to thousands of more doctors and nurses, Mr Brown said: "The fact that is undeniable across the political spectrum is that there is more money going into the NHS."

Nurses' pay

In his Budget on Wednesday, the only commitment the chancellor made on health was a promise to increase nursing pay above the average public sector pay of 2.25%.

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Faced with the failure of his billions to deliver corresponding improvements for patients, Gordon Brown and the Treasury have abandoned the NHS."

BUDGET 2006

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Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb accused ministers of being "in denial" about the cash problems.

"Ministers' only strategy seems to be to hope that the problem will go away of it own accord," said Mr Webb.

The Budget debate saw Mr Brown go head-to-head with Conservative leader David Cameron for the first time in a forerunner of the contest expected at the next election.

The chancellor told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was right for him to set out what he thought important for Britain's future.

But, asked about the succession in Downing Street, he said: "I'm not going to presume the decisions of either Tony Blair or the Labour Party."

In the Commons, Mr Brown described his Budget as one "for Britain's future to secure fairness for each child and invest in every child".

He said his long-term aim was for state school pupils to get the same quality of education as private pupils.

'Gas guzzler' tax

Other measures saw road tax increase for "gas guzzling" cars but no repeat of last year's pensioners council tax rebate.

A Budget for Britain's future to secure fairness for each child and invest in every child
Gordon Brown
Chancellor

Mr Cameron said Mr Brown was the "roadblock to reform" while Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell called the Budget a missed opportunity.

But the sternest criticisms centred upon the lack of attention on NHS, particularly in the aftermath of cost-cutting at the Royal Free Hospital.

Geoff Martin, from the London Health Emergency campaign group, said the staff cuts would have a "devastating impact".

"The total cash crisis in the NHS in London alone is pushing 700m and we are braced for much worse news to come," said Mr Martin.

AT-A-GLANCE
Growth 2% to 2.5%
More tax on most polluting cars
Petrol duty frozen
Spirits duty frozen
9p on cigarettes
Free national bus travel for pensioners and the disabled
No council tax rebate for pensioners

Conservative London Assembly Member Brian Coleman said a superb local hospital was having to close beds because of financial mismanagement in Whitehall.

The latest news comes after New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton said it was cutting 300 jobs, Plymouth Hospitals Trust said about 200 jobs were to go, and up to 1,000 hospital staff face redundancy in Stoke-on-Trent.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Political observers give their reaction to the Budget speech



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