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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Campaigns focus on health clash
Woman undergoing mammography
Labour wants to "end the uncertainty" for patients
The election battle over health between Labour and the Tories has stepped up for the campaign's second full week.

Tony Blair said all women suspected of having breast cancer would see a specialist within two weeks by 2008 if Labour was re-elected.

He later told a Labour rally the Tories would run down the NHS.

The Tories countered with plans for new children's hospitals, as well as challenging Labour on pensions. The Lib Dems said targets were not the answer.

QUICK GUIDE

While the Lib Dems attacked Labour's health plans, their campaign focused on law and order on Monday, with a promise of 10,000 extra police officers.

Typo or secret slip?

Mr Blair told a rally of Labour supporters in Birmingham that the Conservatives' plans would run down NHS funding and mean a worse service for those who could not afford to go private.

He said Labour would ensure that patients got treated, irrespective of their income.

He went on talk about education, childcare and the economy, urging his listeners not to "float off" to other parties but to make sure Labour advances continued.

On Monday afternoon, Mr Blair campaigned in Redditch, Michael Howard in Swindon and Charles Kennedy in Liverpool.

Earlier, Labour published a new health mini manifesto, which said the government had agreed to raise National Insurance contributions in 1998.

Tony Blair addresses supporters at the rally
Tony Blair spoke to a rally audience of 650 supporters in Birmingham

The change did not come into effect until 2002 and the Tories seized on the words as confirming long-time speculation that Labour had a "secret tax raising" agenda all along.

A Labour spokesman said the reference to 1998 was simply a "typo". It should have read 2002, when the Wanless review into health spending recommended raising National Insurance.

The manifesto also included the cancer pledges.

Health Minister Melanie Johnson told reporters how she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.

She said: "When you think there might be something wrong the uncertainty actually creates its own dread."

'Non-urgent'

Labour says it has ensured that 99% of breast cancer cases referred as "urgent" by GPs are seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Now it says it wants to vastly improve on the 17 weeks it currently takes for patients classed as "non-urgent" to see a specialist.

Labour is also promising to ensure women receive their cervical smear test results within seven days, rather than seven weeks.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Hand the NHS back to the doctors with the existing budget and let them make it work like it used to
David Ball, Wokingham

And it says anybody with symptoms which could be bowel cancer would be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Mr Blair used a news conference to claim the Tories were not committed to the NHS in the same way as Labour and would "siphon" off 1.2bn to subsidise private patients.

But the Conservatives say their plan to allow patients to take half the NHS cost of their treatment to go private will help cut overall waiting times.

Michael Howard said he was happy to sign a Labour petition to "keep the NHS free".

"The NHS will be free of charge - it'll continue to be free of charge," he said, promising to extend choice within the NHS.

The Tories also announced they want NHS trusts in Leeds, Nottingham, Derby, Cambridge and Southampton to bid to establish dedicated children's hospitals alongside their acute hospitals.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said the programme would be part of a 300m review of paediatric services in the NHS.

Police officers
The Lib Dems are promising 10,000 more police officers

Pensions were another Tory focus on Monday, with the party urging ministers to come clean about their plans.

The Lib Dems started the week by focusing on crime policies, including a pledge to put 10,000 more police and 20,000 more community support officers on the streets of England, Scotland and Wales.

They want to equip officers with hand-held computers and speech recognition technology in an attempt to cut paperwork.

Fraud worries

Explaining his stress on visible policing, Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "The fear of crime undermines whole communities."

He also renewed Lib Dem opposition to ID cards and accused the Tories of a "flip-flop" position on the issue.

George Galloway's anti-war Respect coalition launched its manifesto on Monday, saying it would go to court to try to get postal voting suspended at the election because of fraud worries.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru launched its election manifesto, calling for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly and a 50% tax rate on earnings more than 50,000.

In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party postponed its manifesto launch after police raided the home of Assembly member Michael Copeland as part of a money laundering probe.

Mr Copeland stressed he had done nothing wrong.





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