NHS gets £450m to help conquer 'biggest killers'

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Alan Milburn promised hundreds of millions of pounds yesterday for the fight against fatal diseases such as cancer and coronary heart diseases.

Alan Milburn promised hundreds of millions of pounds yesterday for the fight against fatal diseases such as cancer and coronary heart diseases.

The Secretary of State for Health, unveiling spending priorities for the NHS, said funding for health authorities would rise by an average of 8.5 per cent, or £29m, next year. A total of £450m would be allocated for Britain's "biggest killers".

In his Commons statement, he also set ambitious targets to cut waiting times for treatment from 18 to 15 months for all patients by March 2002. He also announced a doubling of funding of resources to tackle "health inequalities" between health authorities, totalling £130m.

"Life expectancy for a baby boy born in Manchester is 6.5 years less than that for a baby boy born in East Surrey," he said. "The existing funding formula does not take full account of the excess morbidity and mortality from cancer, coronary heart disease and other causes in these areas expressed through rates of years of lost life." Altogether, 47 health authorities will benefit from the extra funding.

Mr Milburn said a further £65m would be made available as a new cost of living supplement for 100,000 qualified nurses, midwives, health visitors and other professionals in the NHS. A performance fund would provide £100m to drive up standards and reward the bestrun local services.

He said: "From April next year, health authorities will receive an average cash increase of 8.5 per cent. No health authority will receive less than 7.8 per cent... Every health authority will benefit from a further rise of at least 6 per cent in 2002-03, and a further increase of at least 6 per cent in 2003-04."

The cash to tackle health inequalities, he said "will help narrow the health gap between the better-off and the worst-off". It would help the North and Midlands, Calderdale and Kirklees, Nottingham, Dudley and Leicestershire and in the south, areas such as Bedfordshire and Cornwall.

Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, called Mr Milburn's statement a "series of reannouncements" and said there was "very little" that was new in it. He welcomed the increased level in funding and said: "We again pledge to match that increase in NHS funding." Dr Fox said attempts to tackle inequality in health care were important but it had to be done in a way that did not rob Peter to pay Paul.

He attacked the "interference" from the centre that was disrupting the health service and said government figures showed the number of intensive, acute and residential care beds had fallen.

He told Mr Milburn: "You promise much, but you've promised before. The improvements you claim exist are not borne out by the experience of the public."

Later, in a speech on the relationship between the NHS and the independent sector, Dr Fox confirmed Tory plans to offer tax breaks for private health insurance for the self-employed. "We will create a new umbrella organisation, run by the private sector, which will allow the self-employed to affiliate as though they were members of a large company scheme, bringing the lower premiums associated with community rating."