Review of NHS policy steers close to Labour

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The Independent Online
The Liberal Democrats will today accept some of the Government's fundamental changes to the NHS in a policy paper which bears striking resemblance to Labour's plans for the future of the health service.

Liberal Democrats reject the "internal market" in the NHS, but like Labour, say the last thing the NHS needs is another upheaval, and accept the split between hospitals and GPs who obtain care for their patients.

Although there was no collusion over their reports, the Liberal Democrats' health policy will be seen as a step closer to Labour which allows a more unified attack on the Tories prior to the general election.

The Liberal Democrat policy paper Building on the Best of the NHS criticises the "two tier" health service created by GP fundholders and the internal market. But it says they have to recognise the dramatic changes that have gone on."This does not mean that Liberal Democrats accept all these changes without criticism," it says. "We recognise the reality that any further upheaval in the NHS, even with the best of intentions, will further lower morale and impede the NHS's ability to care for patients."

Labour is committed to abolishing fundholding GPs but both parties propose replacing fundholding with commissioning. They both say they would retain NHS trust hospitals but reform their management boards to reflect the views of the local community.

There are differences in policy over resources. The Liberal Democrats say taxpayers' money can be spent purchasing health care from the private sector, if necessary, while Labour is against private sector "cherry picking" of NHS contracts.

On charges, the Liberal Democrats say they will freeze prescription charges and abolish charges for eye and dental check-ups. They say extra resources will be provided by a higher, earmarked health tax on cigarettes to curb smoking.