PM's Question Time: Labour woes `made NHS crisis worse'

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE claimed yesterday the past weeks of turmoil within the Government had been a "disgrace" that had directly affected the crisis in the NHS.

The Tory leader used the first Prime Minister's question time of the year to attack the "personal feuds" that erupted over the Christmas recess.

He told the House of Commons: "While the NHS has been in crisis, personal feuds have taken the place of political principle, personal loans have taken the place of political priorities."

But Tony Blair insisted that while there were "still huge problems in the health service" it was impossible to "put right 20 years of neglect in schools and health in 20 months".

However, Mr Hague went on to accuse the Prime Minister of having tried to protect Peter Mandelson, the former secretary of state for trade and industry, and now wanting to rehabilitate him even though the past few weeks had "been a disgrace".

"It is time you buried the spin-doctoring politics of New Labour with the self-serving, high-living career of the politician who invented are treating him like the Comeback Kid when he is actually the Kickback Kid.

"No matter how often you relaunch it, a Government that believes in everything and believes in nothing cannot succeed."

The rowdy exchanges followed three weeks of upheavals and turmoil for the Government, overshadowed by the resignations of Mr Mandelson, Geoffrey Robinson as Paymaster-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's press secretary, Charlie Whelan.

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, told Mr Blair: "Electors did not vote to kick out the Tories and see public services worsen."

But the Prime Minister said the extra pounds 2.5bn investment in the NHS had ensured that it was getting through the winter in much better shape than would have been the case.

Mr Hague said: "What we have seen in the last few weeks is intensive care bed availability at the lowest ever, we've seen doctors and nurses under even more pressure than before.

"We've seen pregnant women told not to give birth, we've seen refrigerated lorries used as temporary morgues, we've seen people on trolleys in hospitals - all people who were told they could look forward to the winter with confidence."

To Labour jeers, Mr Hague added: "To you there is always someone else to blame. The NHS is in crisis and you say the Government is innocent. Whatever happens in this Government, everybody always says they are innocent.

"The Trade and Industry Secretary resigns and he's innocent. The Paymaster- General resigns, and now we know why he was called the Paymaster-General, and he's meant to be innocent.

"The Chancellor's press secretary resigns, or intends to resign, and he's innocent. The NHS is in crisis and you're innocent - St Tony, the Angel of Islington, is always innocent!"

But Mr Blair said there was a shortage of nurses because the Tories cut by 4,000 the number of places between 1992 and 1994 and there were 2,500 more trainee nurses today than at the last general election.