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 A/V REPORTS
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Family doctors threatened Mr Blair with a mass resignation from the NHS"
 real 56k

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Whoever wins this election will inherit a profession in crisis"
 real 56k

The BBC's Peter Morgan
has been looking at whether the UK does need more doctors
 real 56k

NHS Support Federation Director, Paul Evans
"I think the majority of GP's still believe in the NHS"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 June, 2001, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
GP vote sparks poll row
Doctor examines baby
Nine out of 10 family doctors are threatening to quit
Family doctors have sparked a new political row about the future of the NHS - only days before the general election - by threatening to quit the service unless they are given improved contracts.

The development moved the Tory leader William Hague to claim that the service provided by GPs was close to collapse, while Tony Blair insisted only Labour could deliver fresh investment in the NHS.

Mr Blair said he welcomed the opportunity to clash head-on with the Conservatives over public services now that they appeared to have switched their campaigning away from Europe.

William Hague on Friday
Hague: Warning about GP service

The issue of a possible Labour landslide has also featured prominently, with Lady Thatcher saying that she was working to reduce Mr Blair's majority.

Some 86% of GPs who responded to a ballot conducted by the British Medical Association said they would be prepared to walk out if a new contract was not negotiated by next spring.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn has reacted by offering doctors' leaders a timetable for talks on a new contract.

Judgement day

Speaking at a Tory party rally in Bradford, in Yorkshire, Mr Hague said: "They, the doctors, are not even waiting until next Thursday to pass their judgement on Labour's promises.

"The best, most committed, professionals we already have are voting with their feet."

He said the vote was an indictment of Labour's failure to deliver on its election promises.

He said: "You can't put schools and the health service first when you place teachers, doctors and nurses last."

In a speech at Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight, where the Beatles once played early in their career, Mr Blair made no reference to the vote, but he told 200 Labour supporters that more needed to be done for schools and hospitals.

Mr Blair said that only Labour could deliver fresh investments in the NHS.

blair
Blair: Pleased at Tories' "change" of direction
"When we hear the frustrations and concerns of people who work in the health service we know there is more to do," he said.

"The answer is to keep the investment coming in and never go back to the Tories' days of cuts and selling off essential parts of the service."

He went on to detail the government's economic achievements, including creating a million new jobs and launching the New Deal which he warned the Tories would abolish.

He added that he was sure pensioners wanted Labour to do more for older people, prompting some audience members to shout out "yes".

'Landslide'

Earlier on Friday, Mr Hague attacked Labour's record on inner cities saying that the problems of housing people in bed and breakfast accommodation, and child poverty had doubled since 1997.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have put tackling crime at the heart of their agenda.

They pledged 6,000 more police officers, 2,000 part time community police officers and a civilian community safety force.

Mr Blair has hit back at Conservative warnings about a Labour landslide, saying they were encouraging people not to vote in an attempt to get into office by the back door.

Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy is campaigning on crime
His comments were prompted by Lady Thatcher and Mr Hague warning that a landslide Labour victory would be dangerous for Britain.

On the campaign trail on Friday, Lady Thatcher appeared to acknowledge that Mr Hague's chances of snatching victory were slim.

She told reporters that she was working to "reduce" Labour's majority to prevent what she called "an elective dictatorship".

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy also warned of the dangers of a Labour landslide - stressing the need for a "vigorous opposition".

He argued his party would be better equipped to provide this than a Conservative Party that was heading for an "ongoing theological civil war".

There are also reports of cracks appearing in the Tory ranks with former chancellor Kenneth Clarke apparently criticising Mr Hague's attempt to make the election a referendum on the euro.

But the Tories played down talk of splits over their focus on saving the pound.

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