Parliament: Health: Further rationing in the NHS denied by Dobson

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The Independent Online
THE SECRETARY of State for Health, Frank Dobson, flatly denied accusations of worsening rationing in the National Health Service under his leadership, saying yesterday that there was "limited supply of most things in the world".

During a Tory-led debate on rationing, Mr Dobson said that unlike in private healthcare provision, treatment in the NHS was according to individual need. "It was no more informative to talk about healthcare being rationed than it is to say education is rationed because there is not an unlimited supply of teachers or classrooms or that air travel is rationed because there was not a seat left on the plane you wanted to catch," he said.

But Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Health Secretary, said the pressure on hospitals "to force through quick, simple waiting-list cases", had led to increased rationing and "the present disastrous winter crisis" in the NHS. Pledging to end the "stigma" on private healthcare, she added: "The way forward is not the Government's pledge to cut waiting lists, which is a form of rationing by queue, but common sense co-operation with the private sector." Ministers should "stop being ideological" because they were "digging a Grand Canyon" between the public and private sectors.

But Mr Dobson attacked her for distorting the picture of treatment availability. He said it was only people on private insurance who were "permitted a fixed ration of healthcare, a fixed number of operations or drugs regardless of their circumstances. In the NHS that sort of rationing is not happening and it never has."

He said the quality of treatment in the NHS would be raised, resulting in a fairer, more standard share-out around the country. The "process of innovation" meant some places developed new treatments before others. Although the rate of take-up of treatments needed to be faster, this "time- lag" was nothing new.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory chancellor, blamed the winter crisis in the NHS on a "severe spending squeeze" during Labour's first two years in office.

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