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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"[Blair] was already looking pained and then he met Sharron Storer"
 real 56k

Tony Blair is confronted by Sharron Storer
over the government's spending on health
 real 56k

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Miss Storer said shifting vulnerable cancer patients from bed to bed was unacceptable"
 real 56k

MarkBriteenall, University Hospital Birmingham
"Part of our ward environment is perhaps not as good as it should be"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 18:13 GMT
Voter mars Labour launch
Sharron Storer
Tony Blair was challenged on Labour's NHS record
Tony Blair launched Labour's election manifesto with a pledge to deliver "real and radical change".

But as the prime minister promised public service reform he had to defend his party's record on health spending when he was confronted by an angry cancer patient's partner.

Would you like to tell me what you are going to do to give these people better facilities?

Sharron Storer
Other cabinet members came under fire elsewhere, with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott attacked and manhandled by demonstrators at a Labour Party rally in the North Wales.

And police officers gave Home Secretary Jack Straw a slow handclap during his speech to the Police Federation conference where he claimed Labour had maintained standards.

The Conservatives put the campaign spotlight on crime and the Liberal Democrats focused on health.

Labour's manifesto - Ambitions for Britain - set out the party's goals until 2010 promising changes to public services but no rise in the basic or higher rates of income tax.

But only hours after the launch in Birmingham, Mr Blair faced the wrath of a cancer patient's distraught partner at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the city.

Sharron Storer challenged the prime minister to defend the government's health service record.

Tony Blair in Birmingham
Tony Blair was harangued in Birmingham

The 38-year-old was outraged that no bed had been available on Monday in the hospital's bone marrow unit for her partner, who has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of lymphatic cancer.

"Would you like to tell me what you are going to do to give these people better facilities?," she asked the prime minister.

"All you do is walk around and make yourself known but you don't do anything to help anybody," she said.

The prime minister said afterwards that more investment was being put into the health service but that change took time.

'Full of spin'

The party's election manifesto promises of more nurses, doctors, teachers and police officers came under attack from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

The Tories dismissed it as "full of spin" while the Lib Dems called it "timid".

The manifesto renewed Labour's pledge to reform the NHS, promised to give more freedom to headteachers and "radically improve" secondary schools.

It also commited Labour to a referendum on joining the euro when the economic climate is right and giving MPs a free vote on banning foxhunting.

20,000 more nurses and 10,000 more doctors
Decentralise power to doctors
Ensure booked appointments by 2005
Cut maximum waiting times by 2005
Create specially-built surgical units to cut delays

On crime, the manifesto promised tougher punishment and a new victims' bill of rights.

But Conservative leader William Hague said Labour was soft on crime and the Tories would increase police numbers and end the government's special early release scheme in an effort to "win the war".

Mr Blair said: "I know we have a great deal more still to do. We have made a start.

"There is progress and now we have a chance to begin the work we have begun."

He added: "This is a manifesto that takes the next steps to building a strong society, strong economy and strong Britain."

No income tax rises
Referendum on joining the euro
Increase minimum wage to 4.20
New baby bonds for every new-born child
"This manifesto is not a recipe for a quiet life."

Policies under fire

But shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said Mr Blair could not be believed.

"The fact is he has been given four years and he has failed to deliver."

He accused Mr Blair of making Britain more bureaucratic.

"We have fewer police, we have fewer teachers and we have a public transport service in crisis."

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "They have a healthy economy, a big parliamentary majority, they could be doing so much more."

Labour manifesto
The manifesto promised public service reform
His comments came as it emerged that the Liberal Democrats had withdrawn from the fight for a marginal seat in Wyre Forest, Worcestershire.

Independent candidate Dr Richard Taylor is standing as part of a campaign against cut backs at a local hospital.

Lord Razzall, Lib Dem campaign director said the decision had been taken in view of the local circumstances and reflected the party's commitment to health issues.

BBC News Online's in depth coverage of the 2001 election campaign

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