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Chairman of the Lib Dems Malcolm Bruce
outlines his party's health plans
 real 56k

Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 19:11 GMT 20:11 UK
Lib Dem NHS prescription
Doctors in an operating theatre
The Lib Dems want more preventative healthcare
The NHS needs a culture shift to emphasise that prevention is better than cure, say the Liberal Democrats.

The party would invest more in scans and test to prevent the "human misery" caused by not tackling illness early.

We want a national health service, not a national sickness service

Malcolm Bruce
The Lib Dems focused their morning news conference on health but Europe continues to dominate the general election campaign.

Party chairman Malcolm Bruce lambasted the Conservatives for being split on Europe and said both the Tories and Labour were confused on the issue.

Culture shift

On health, Mr Bruce said the party, which is promising 27,500 extra nurses and 4,600 more doctors, saw itself as the champion of the NHS.

Both the Tories and the Labour government had left the health service starved of resources.

"Before the last election Labour said there were 24 hours to save the NHS," he said.

"Liberal Democrats are beginning to wonder which 24 hours."

Nick Harvey
Harvey: Culture shift needed
And he continued: "The message we are getting from health service staff is: 'Tory privatisation - don't let Labour deliver it.'"

The party wants more resources to go into preventative care.

"We want a national health service not a national sickness service," said Mr Bruce. Health spokesman Nick Harvey said: "We need to stand the whole ethos of the NHS on its head and get this message through that prevention is better than cure."

'Zapping' cancer

He said ways of "zapping" lung cancer within just 45 minutes had been devised in the UK but were not available on the NHS.

Instead, the service was conditioned to leave cancer to a later stage and then treat it with major surgery.

Mr Harvey said it was the culture which was the issue, not simply finance.

The party is promising an extra 75m a year - on top of Labour's plans - for diagnostic and surgical equipment.

It wants more tests to be available in GPs surgery and in high street pharmacies.

"Screening and testing procedures saves human misery by treating things sooner but in the long term will save a great deal of money," added Mr Harvey.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy also focused on health - especially the "scandal of low pay" for NHS nurses - on a visit in Edinburgh.

The party is promising an average 1,000 salary boost for health workers.

Clear on Europe

Reporters pressed questions on Europe at the election news conference in central London.

Mr Bruce said the Tories were wrong to focus on the issue.

"I think the Conservatives are making a mistake because if you are fighting on an issue, you don't only need to be strong on it, you need to be united on it," he said.

"It's not possible to campaign when you are not clear about your message."

The Lib Dems were making the case for British entry if the circumstances were right but would hold a referendum on the question.

But he criticised Labour too for not providing proper leadership on Europe and the single currency.

"The difference between the Liberal Democrats, who have a clear position on this, and the other two parties is that their confusion gives no lead at all to business planners."

One key economic condition for joining had not been met, he said - convergence of the exchange rate between the pound and the euro.

English forum

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes called for English MPs to be able make decisions on England-only issues.

Speaking on BBC's Election Call, Mr Hughes said: "I think it is entirely appropriate that if you devolve power from to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you should also have a forum where English representatives discuss things too."

He said that approach was not party policy but he hoped to persuade his colleagues of his view.


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