Kennedy attacks Labour's NHS plans as 'meaningless'

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Charles Kennedy launched a stinging attack yesterday on Tony Blair's pledge to bring more choice to the NHS. He said that it would be "meaningless" unless the capacity to treat patients was increased.

Charles Kennedy launched a stinging attack yesterday on Tony Blair's pledge to bring more choice to the NHS. He said that it would be "meaningless" unless the capacity to treat patients was increased.

Mr Kennedy accused the Prime Minister of "spin" and using "empty rhetoric" to distract voters from his failure to deliver improvements in the NHS. The Liberal Democrat leader said the Government was trying to create a "smokescreen" to hide its failure to meet its targets on health care.

But he also criticised the Tory leader Michael Howard for using choice to disguise the Tories' "real agenda" of encouraging people to use the private sector instead of the NHS.

"For the Conservatives, the choice mantra is a mask," Mr Kennedy said yesterday. "Mr Howard is proposing to spend billions on subsidising people to opt out of the NHS at the taxpayer's expense. The Conservatives have admitted that before a single extra operation is performed their plans would take £1.2bn out of the NHS."

His party also supported choice in public services. But to use it "as the panacea for reform'' was misleading. People wanted good local services that were accessible and reliable, not the chance to travel several hours for treatment. Choice should be "just one element in the debate" about the future of public services. Politicians should "be focusing on quality provision closer to home".

He added: "In the NHS, if you or your child or your elderly parent suffers a heart attack, you don't want a choice of treatment. You want a quality ambulance service to take you to a quality hospital, with quality doctors and nurses ready to treat you immediately. You don't want to know there is a three-star hospital available 50 miles away. Choice in such circumstances is meaningless."

Mr Kennedy said the NHS had suffered because of "years of Conservative cuts" but he accused Tony Blair of not putting in enough investment early enough and of wasting "billions on centralised management and political targets".

John Reid, the Health Secretary, will today spell out how choice will work and say that extending choice will increase capacity. He will describe how pilots allowing patients to choose have cut waiting times for heart and cataract surgery.

"Real choice maximises the potential output from capacity. Once patients have choice, they play an active role in improving the system,'' he will say.

"When people say that all this choice doesn't increase the number of operations at all, they are wrong, since it provides a direct incentive for improvement."

Comments