Blair takes charge of NHS reforms

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The Independent Online
Publication of the Government's long-awaited White Paper on the future of the National Health Service has been postponed for a week to enable Tony Blair to give his personal backing to the proposals which will put family doctors in the driving seat for changes to the way patient care is ordered.

The White Paper was due to be published on Monday, but the Prime Minister has taken charge of the launch of the reforms, which will replace fundholding by GPs with groups of family doctors acting together to order care from hospitals.

There are increasing signs that Mr Blair could seek to tackle the problems facing the NHS with a big increase in funding for the health service before the next election. A strong hint of a substantial increase in spending on the health service was given by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, when he emphasised his commitment to increase health service funding above the rate of inflation in his pre-Budget report this week.

Doctors leaders emerged from a private meeting with ministers convinced that the Government is preparing a "substantial" increase in funding for the NHS.

The Government has already provided an extra pounds 300m to avert a crisis in the hospitals this winter. The British Medical Association is privately warning ministers that an additional pounds 500m is needed to avoid the queues growing, but is poised to mount a campaign for a massive increase, arguing that Britain still spends far less on health than its European neighbours. Health spending in Britain, including private health, is 6.9 per cent of gross domestic product; France spends 9.8 per cent, Germany 10.4 per cent, Italy 7.7 per cent, and the United States 14.2 per cent.