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The BBC's Robin Oakley reports
"All parties agree the NHS needs more funding"
 real 28k

The BBC's Peter Morgan reports
"More money is needed just to maintain standards"
 real 28k

TUC General Secretary John Monks
"More money in their coffers"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 18:15 GMT
Government accused of NHS complacency

bed Tories want tax breaks for people with medical insurance

The Conservatives have accused the government of leaving voters feeling angry, frightened and betrayed by their management of the NHS.

In a Commons opposition day debate, Tory health spokesman Dr Liam Fox said the government of "utter complacency" in its attitude towards the health service.

Flu nightmare
Earlier, Tory leader William Hague said during a visit to a London hospital that patients faced a lottery over whether they would receive treatment.

He has written to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy calling for an end to the "discouragement" in the tax system for people taking out private health insurance, arguing that tax relief on private medical contributions could help expand the overall level of health provision.

Alan Milburn: Accused of contempt
But the prime minister's official spokesman said such policies were evidence of a "clear right-wing agenda to promote arguments that the NHS cannot be sustained".

The Tory offensive comes as the government tries to stem criticism over ongoing hospital intensive care beds shortages and Mr Blair's weekend admission that overall NHS funding was "too low".

The Tories have also accused ministers of failing to stump up enough cash to pay for the above-inflation pay rises awarded to nurses and other NHS staff on Monday.

William Hague's letter calls for:
The NHS to be less political with increased funding
Patients to be treated according to clinical need
Partnership between NHS and independent sector
Dr Fox said: "This is the NHS the prime minister told voters they had 24 hours to save just before the election.

"Three years into his government people are asking what has gone wrong.

"The people he made promises feel angry, they feel frightened but above all they feel betrayed."

In the middle of a flu epidemic, "we have discovered the world's fifth biggest economy's health system can be brought to its knees by something cyclical, predictable and common", Dr Fox continued.

Mr Milburn had reacted to this by insisting the health service was coping extremely well, said Dr Fox.

"It's not coping extremely well. This is utter complacency," he continued.

"The only reason the NHS is running at all is because of the Herculean effort of the staff of the National Health Service to which we all pay the greatest credit."

A pay award for NHS staff was announced on Monday
Turning to address Monday's announcement of a pay increase for NHS staff, Dr Fox said it had been brought forward as a "panic measure" and nurses and doctors had immediately spotted it was not accompanied by no extra funding.

Dr Fox urged the government to end its "utter dislike" of independent health care and open up negotiations to allow the independent sector to work with the NHS.

Underlining calls from Mr Hague for tax breaks for people with private medical insurance, Dr Fox said Labour's "dogmatic hatred" of the independent sector prevented meaningful negotiations.

Mr Milburn accused the Tories of suffering from an epidemic of amnesia when it came to their own treatment of the NHS.

He said: "This debate is not about NHS today but about health care in the future too.

"There are no closed minds on radical reforms of the health service. Radical reform is what we've been doing for the last two and a half years."

Mr Milburn said that nobody "pretends that there aren't problems in the NHS".

"If we thought there were nothing wrong then we wouldn't' be working so hard to put things right", he continued.

He insisted there were "no closed minds" in the government over radical reform.

Mr Milburn said: "The Conservative Party is beginning to act as if it was the political wing of the private health insurance movement.

"A private alternative to the NHS is not the right remedy."

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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  Health
NHS dentistry 'denied to thousands'
17 Jan 00 |  Health
Nurses welcome pay boost
17 Jan 00 |  Health
Vital surgery cancelled seven times
18 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
William Hague's letter on the NHS
16 Jan 00 |  Health
Blair admits NHS is underfunded
12 Jan 00 |  Health
People are suffering, admits Blair
17 Jan 00 |  Health
Hospital doctors: how they are paid
02 Feb 99 |  Health
Government 'misled' public on pay
17 Jan 00 |  Health
NHS pay: The reaction

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