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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 11:35 GMT
Lib Dem health plans: Analysis
Care
Personal care would be free to everybody with long-term illness
The Liberal Democrats have made spending on the NHS a central theme of their manifesto for the General Election.

Key pledges
3bn NHS cash injection to cut patient waiting times
Recruit 27,500 extra nurses and 4,600 extra doctors
10,000 new hospital beds
Nurses' pay to rise by an average of 1,000
Free NHS dental and eye checks
More GP diagnostic tests
Free personal care to all people with long-term illness
Guaranteed date for surgery or consultant appointment
Pharmaceuticals Agency to control NHS drugs bill
Unlike the other major parties, the Lib Dems say they will increase taxation to fund a radical programme of reform in the health service.

The emphasis on health has received a warm welcome from the British Medical Assocition - but even doctors are reluctant to call for a hike in tax to pay for the NHS.

A spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "The BMA believes that the NHS should continue to be funded primarily from general taxation but we have no position on the levels of taxation that should apply at different income levels."

BMA policy

She said a number of Lib Dem policies echoed long-standing BMA policy, in particular free personal care and the abolition of charges for eye and dental checks.

"The acknowledgement that the NHS is seriously understaffed and underbedded is welcome, as are plans to expand the number of doctors.

"However, the Liberal Democrats' planned expansion is not ambitious enough.

"We estimate that we need at least another 10,000 GPs in England alone and we want to see all political parties commiting themselves to this target as a medium to long term objective."

The BMA is also sceptical about plans to put a greater emphasis on complementary medicine. The association believes the evidence that many of these therapies work is weak.

It is also concerned about proposals to inlcude doctors in a single pay system for all NHS staff.

The spokeswoman said: "Doctors are the most highly trained and qualified professionals in the NHS and carry unique clinical and leadership responsibilities.

"As such, their earnings need to be compared with professionals outside the health service."

Independent watchdog

The King's Fund, an independent health think tank, welcomed the pledge to make personal care available free to people with long-term ilnesses.


What the NHS needs is not more hospital beds but to use the ones we have more effectively

King's Fund
A spokesman said: "We believe that taxation is a more appropriate means of pooling risk of long-term illness or injury than means-tested charges or insurance-based funding systems."

The proposal was also greeted with enthusiasm by the Royal College of Nursing.

A spokesperson said: "Making long-term personal care free would make a real difference to the most vulnerable patients and would remove a heavy burden of worry from many people."

The King's Fund also welcomed plans to create extra training places for nurses, doctors and professions allied to medicine.

However, its support was tempered by a warning that the proposed expansion in numbers may not be sufficient.

The spokesman said: "They fall far short of the numbers independent commentators have suggested are necessary.

"The biggest challenge for whichever party wins the election will be attracting people into public service in the first place and keeping them working in the NHS."

The pledge to create more hospital beds was dismissed as "disappointing".

"What the NHS needs is not more hospital beds but to use the ones we have more effectively and to shift more resources into primary and community care, where most people want to receive their health care."

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