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Prime Minister Tony Blair
outlines Labour's health and eductaion plans
 real 56k

Labour's Alan Milburn and Conservative Liam Fox
discuss the Labour government's record
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Labour pledge NHS ops rise
Labour say Tories want people to pay for health care
An extra 400,000 hip, knee, hernia and cataract operations have been announced by the Labour party as part of its plan to boost the NHS.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference that in contrast to Labour, the Tories had a "backdoor strategy" to push people out of the NHS for non life-threatening operations "to pay for them privately".

It's a damn disgrace - I'm 37 and I don't want to die waiting

Deborah Pemberton, voter
And Health Secretary Alan Milburn said thousands of people in the UK were housebound in chronic pain, and that the extra operations pledged by Mr Blair would be achieved by 2005.

But another cabinet minister was forced onto the defensive after a phone-in caller said she did not want to "die waiting" for a hospital appointment.

Mr Milburn said the number of knee and hip operations would rise by a third and there would be 40% more cataract operations under Labour.

This would be made possible by Labour's plans to recruit another 20,000 more nurses and 10,000 more doctors.

Caller's anger

But But Labour's pledges for NHS improvement, including reducing waiting lists, caused anger when Labour frontbencher Margaret Beckett appeared on BBC Two and Radio 4's Election Call.

Deborah Pemberton, from Newcastle on Tyne, told Mrs Beckett her bowel complaint had been "misdiagnosed" by the NHS.

Having endured a six-month wait for a hospital appointment, she was now having to wait a further three months, she said.

"It is a damn disgrace. I'm 37 and I don't want to die - I don't want to die waiting," Ms Pemberton said.

Blair: "Investment and reform of public services"
"I've lost two stone, my doctor has begged for me to be treated urgently, but the hospitals can't do it," she added, accusing Mr Blair of "lying" about the NHS.

Mrs Beckett conceded there were "serious problems with waiting" and that there were aspects of the NHS that "urgently" needed improvement.

"We have substantially increased and accepted every pay recommendation for nurses," she said.

"We have to turn the health service round. We have identified where the money can come from."

She went on to tell Ms Pemberton, who was becoming increasingly angry, that improvements to the health service became apparent "slowly".

Labour say many women would be affected by Tory policy
It takes three years to years to train a nurse, seven for a doctor and 15 for a consultant, she said.

"The only way we can help people like you is to bring in extra staff. We have to put in the extra resources."

Tory leader William Hague also dismissed Labour's targets to recruit more doctors and nurses, accusing them of "plucking a number out of the air".

He said a Conservative government would match Labour's spending commitments on the National Health Service, but would concentrate more on retaining existing staff.

Hague hits back

"I think we will achieve any target faster than they will because we will do better at retaining people within the health service, he told a phone-in on Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell show.

"I think people aren't fooled by these made-up numbers any more."

He added a Tory government would get rid of the government's existing targets for reducing waiting lists.

"We have got to let the doctors decide how long somebody should have to wait and quickly somebody should be dealt with," he said.

However Tessa Jowell, minister with responsibility for women's issues, said the majority of people having the operations in question were women, and they would "bear the brunt of Tory cuts on NHS operations".


Mr Milburn added that the Tories had admitted they would "demand a little extra contribution" for operations.

He said this could mean paying 1,700 for a hernia, 3,000 for cataracts, 9,000 for a hip operation and 9,600 for knee treatment.

"The Tories are divided on Europe, but we are united in our mission to make our NHS work and schools work," he said, reiterating Labour's pledge to boost health and teacher numbers.


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