The Government's £50m boost to improve and speed up heart disease treatment is not "new" money, but money that has already been put aside for the National Health Service, medical experts said yesterday.

The Government's £50m boost to improve and speed up heart disease treatment is not "new" money, but money that has already been put aside for the National Health Service, medical experts said yesterday.

The Department of Health confirmed that the "extra money" is part of the £21bn allocated to the NHS in the Comprehensive Spending Review, which was announced last year.

Alan Milburn, the new Health Secretary, announced the £50m for heart disease yesterday, as part of the change in emphasis of government policy from cutting hospital waiting lists to new targets for Britain's "biggest killers" - heart disease, cancer and mental illness.

Mr Milburn met 12 leading heart specialists yesterday to discuss the new targets for extra operations. He told them that by making maximum use of current cardiac capacity the Government wants an additional 3,000 cardiac operations in the next two years - an increase of 10 per cent. He also said that funds will be pumped into training, with an extra 330 cardiology consultants and 80 cardiothoracic consultants expected to be in place by 2005.

However, the British Medical Association, who welcomed the Government making heart disease and its prevention a priority, said that these "additional" heart doctors were already in the NHS. "The 400 additional heart specialists announced today are already in the NHS as specialist registrars on the training ladder," said Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the BMA's consultants' committee.

"I would urge Mr Milburn to take steps now to ensure that when they qualify there will be consultant posts for them and also to keep an open mind on whether we should be pump priming the fight against heart disease with an additional injection of training places now," he said.

"If we increase the number of front-line heart specialists we will also need a boost in pathology, radiology and anaesthetic services to support expansion," he added.

The funding, which only covers England, is aimed at reducing the 130,000 deaths a year from coronary heart disease, one of the highest rates in the world.

Peter Bottomley, the Conservative MP for West Worthing, called on Mr Milburn to make public details of how the money was being raised for this new policy "especially in view of the muddle the Home Secretary has got himself into over police numbers".

Mr Bottomley said Mr Milburn must indicate whether this was new money, orwhether it had been transferred from within the department. "Or is there a pot of money which they are keeping so that Health Ministers can make announcements about new initiatives if they are in trouble?" he said.

Mr Bottomley said that for the first time in his 24 years in Parliament he had an 89-year-old widow in his constituency who was having to wait 12 months for a hearing test.

Comments