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Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 16:28 GMT
Health insurance 'can ease NHS strain'

NHS should focus on most serious cases says Hague

People should be encouraged to take out private health insurance so that the NHS can focus on the most serious cases, according to Tory leader William Hague.

He said he did not favour forcing people to take out medical insurance, but stressed that the strains caused by the current flu outbreak showed it was part of the answer to the problems facing the health service.

William Hague: Labour has failed
Mr Hague, speaking from Florida, defended his pledge to cut taxes and increase spending on public services including health at the same time.

Taxes did not have to go up to get more money for the NHS, he said.

Instead, the money should come from cutting government bureaucracy and tackling social security fraud.

"As a country we need to spend a larger share of our national income on health in total and that means more public expenditure but it also means more private expenditure on health," he told BBC One's On The Record.

In particular, a Tory government would make it easier for people to take out private health insurance, he said.

Mr Hague stressed, however, that he did not favour a United States-style health system in which only the most basic cover was provided free of charge.

'Stark failure'

Asked about polls showing only 25% of the public trusted the Conservatives to run the NHS, Mr Hague said his party was putting forward "practical proposals" such as the "patient's guarantee", under which people with the most serious conditions would be seen first.

He added: "Only one in 12 people think the NHS is improving under the Labour Party so we can all quote opinion poll figures in every direction.

Mavis Skeet Mavis Skeet: Cancer now inoperable because of delays
"We are the ones who are making the running on this subject - yes, we have to persuade more people that we are doing that, but we are actually doing it."

The Blair government's stewardship of the NHS was a "stark and total failure", he claimed.

They had betrayed the faith which voters had in their pre-election pledge to rescue the health service, he said.

Citing the case of Mavis Skeet, Mr Hague said was "ludicrous" to force the NHS to concentrate on cutting waiting lists as a whole without prioritising the most serious cases.

Mrs Skeet's operation to remove throat cancer was cancelled four times in five weeks at Leeds General Infirmary because of the winter pressure on beds.

Now doctors say the 73-year-old's condition is inoperable.

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See also:
16 Jan 00 |  Health
Blair pledges health cash boost
11 Dec 99 |  Health
Patients 'rejecting' private health
02 Dec 99 |  Health
Private health watchdog to be created
17 Nov 99 |  Health
Move to boost private health standards

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