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Parliament: Tories accuse Dobson of fear tactics

FRANK DOBSON, the Secretary of State for Health, was bitterly accused of extending "control freakery" to the National Health Service by the Tories yesterday, who claimed he was creating a "climate of fear" to meet his pledge to reduce hospital waiting lists.

Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative health spokeswoman, attacked Mr Dobson for "fiddling the figures" while patients were being "diddled", resulting in an "army of trolleys" in hospital corridors.

But Mr Dobson, opening a debate on the Queen's Speech, said Ms Widdecombe was deliberately carrying out a "smear" campaign against NHS staff responsible for compiling the lists.

"Every single one of their [the Tories'] claims have been proved to be untrue. They make their allegations, they don't check on the facts, so they smear the hard-working staff who they say are fiddling the figures," he said.

Mr Dobson went on to stress that the planned creation of "primary care groups", as outlined in the speech, which would number about 50 GPs serving 100,000 people, would make the NHS more patient-centred and less dominated by institutions.

In an attempt to break down the "Berlin wall" between health and community care, trusts will receive a single budget, enabling them to decide whether to hire more community nurses to care for more people in their homes or spend more on prescribing to control medical conditions rather than sending patients to hospitals.

In angry clashes, Ms Widdecombe said GPs were being dragooned into the primary care groups in a "bulk rather than gradually" which would result in the system "going wrong all at once. Many family doctors are unwilling to co-operate with Government plans to conscript them into these groups because they know that patient care will be adversely affected as GPs are turned into glorified accountants ... and will mean the end of family doctors as we know them in many areas of the country," she said.

Arguing for a new system of waiting lists that would identify particular groups of diseases, Ms Widdecombe branded the Queen Speech proposals on health a "blueprint for centralised, bureaucratic control". "This Government's priority is not patient care but control freakery. These proposals will... create an NHS where ministers have all the power and none of the responsibilities," she said.

Later in the debate, Michael Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister, condemned the Government for edging back to policies that had failed the country in the past.

In a wide-ranging attack on Labour's legislative agenda, Mr Heseltine claimed the Blair administration was "very much the successor of the Attlee government of 1945", because it had "big ideas" which would take "50 years to get rid off".

Mr Heseltine, a prominent Europhile, said the "most chilling aspect" was the Government's tacit encouragement of a federalist agenda for Europe through devolution. He said those aiming for the federalist agenda wanted to "bypass the nation state because they realise that if they can regionalise Europe, then they can exercise a much more pervasive influence from Brussels...

"[The Commons] will become increasingly less important as the power is shifted with the money towards a regional ... Europe...that concept of Europe is fed, wittingly or unwittingly, by what this Government is doing in breaking up the coherence of the UK," he said.