NHS plan attacked as waste of money

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The Independent Online
Labour health spokesman Chris Smith yesterday attacked the Government White Paper on the NHS as "an abuse of civil servants' time" and a pre- election stunt aimed at boosting the profile of the Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell.

"There is nothing in this White Paper of any real significance, no legislative proposals at all," he said. The document, costing pounds 170,000 of the health budget, was a "blatant piece of electioneering material".

Mr Dorrell denied allegations that he was painting a rosy picture of the NHS which clashed with the reality of bed shortages, cancelled operations, and a looming financial crisis in hospitals this winter.

Mr Dorrell said the White Paper, called "A Service with Ambitions", was intended as a vision of the NHS of the future. It was not intended to deal with "difficult short-term issues", he said, which will be tackled by the announcement of an extra pounds 500m after the Budget.

It was dismissed as being "full of good intentions signifying no new policy" by Liberal Democrat health spokesman, Simon Hughes.

But the White Paper does give a clear vision of the way the NHS could develop.

It commits the Conservatives to funding the NHS from taxation, and insists that it is "affordable". But the limited resources available from the taxpayer will be allocated according to priorities.

Three working parties will be set up to investigate ways of providing more information for the patient, the development of health teams to break down barriers between hospitals and GP surgeries, and ways of measuring effectiveness of treatment.

Under the White Paper, patients and their GPs could be given league tables listing the most successful and least successful hospitals and consultants according to outcome of treatment.

The effectiveness of treatment will be one of the priorities for allowing care on the NHS.

Health service managers may decide that some treatments are too expensive and not likely to be successful. Fertility treatment, may be ruled out on the NHS by managers, unless their success rate improves.

In reality, patients are already finding that the "national" health service is no longer offering the same cover across the country.

Mr Dorrell said there was no "blanket" ban on IVF on the NHS, but in some areas it is available on the NHS, while in others it is not because of its cost

Hospitals are going deeper into the red, in spite of a statutory requirement to break even at the end of the financial year. They are hoping to make ends meet this winter with the promise of more money next year.

Figures by Hugh Bayley, a Labour MP and expert on health economics, show that the deficit of 11 trusts doubled during 1995-96 from pounds 10.8m to pounds 19.4m.

The Mid-Anglia community trust deficit rose from pounds 44,000 to pounds 119,000 in 1995-96; East Anglia ambulance service went further into the red from pounds 68,000 to pounds 998,000; the deficit of the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital escalated from pounds 826,000 to pounds 3.5m.

Other increases in deficits included the United Leeds Teaching hospitals, which rose from pounds 334,000 to pounds 6.9m; Swindon and Marlborough, increased from pounds 522,000 to pounds 1.02m; and Greenwich which rose from pounds 2.8m to pounds 4m.