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Blair pledges boost to NHS

A MULTI-billion pound cash injection into the National Health Service was agreed last week, after a meeting between Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown. The extra cash, expected to amount to between pounds 10bn and pounds 16bn over three years, has been promised in a letter to Cabinet colleagues and will be linked directly to the modernisation of the NHS.

The boost for Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, comes at the start of a week of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the NHS. In his letter the Prime Minister outlines a five-point plan, the first of which is "more money".

Mr Blair argues: "New Labour has already put in an extra pounds 2bn more than the last government promised. That's an extra pounds 5m a day this year. But as we finalise details of the CSR [comprehensive spending review], Gordon and I are absolutely clear about the need for more investment in the NHS. We will make sure the NHS gets the extra resources it needs. It needs major new investment. It will get it."

On waiting lists - which have risen despite Labour's election promise to cut them - the Prime Minister concedes that they "are proving hard to turn around". He adds "We will meet our pledge by the end of Parliament."

Mr Dobson's difficulty in cutting waiting lists has underlined the need for a massive boost in resources. According to informed speculation the NHS will gain pounds 10bn spread over three years.

In his letter, Mr Blair stresses Labour's commitment to the NHS. "There will be some people," he argues, "who will try to say the NHS has had its day. That is not the view of the Government. With modernisation it can go from strength to strength."

Under the Government's health White Paper, published last December, the internal market will be scrapped with savings from bureaucracy being ploughed into patient care.

Anne Widdecombe, Shadow Health Secretary, said Labour's record on the NHS had been "lamentable".

"Since the election last year we have seen proposals for scores and scores of hospital closures and a substantial rise in waiting lists," she said.

t Nearly two out of three people would be happy to pay extra tax to increase funding for the NHS, according to a new opinion poll. The MORI survey found that nearly half of all those questioned feared the NHS was "at breaking point" while 73 per cent believe it is underfunded.