Bottomley promises 'real growth' in NHS next year

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(First Edition)

THE National Health Service will see real growth next year, Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, pledged yesterday as she announced that 128 more hospitals and units are to become NHS trusts next year.

With 156 already in existence, nearly two-thirds of hospital and community health services will be self-governing from April and ministers are expected to announce next week applications for a fourth wave that should see almost 90 per cent of the service being run by trusts by 1994.

The Government wants the whole of the NHS to be under the control of trusts before the next election, although no 'diehard' directly-managed unit will be forced to make the transition.

Mrs Bottomley combined yesterday's announcement at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton with the most bullish assessment yet from a Cabinet minister of their chances in the spending round.

Other ministers have ducked and dived over spending commitments, but Mrs Bottomley, when asked if she could guarantee that the manifesto commitment of real growth next year in the NHS would survive, replied: 'It will survive. I stand by the manifesto commitment.'

Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is being told that not only is the manifesto commitment on the line, but so is the Prime Minister's own word, given his election campaign statement that the NHS would see growth year on year.

However, the pay review bodies of doctors and nurses are to be told next week by Brian Mawhinney, the Minister for Health, that there is room for little or no pay increase next year given the economic situation.

A possible victim of the spending round is the extension of the Patient's Charter to set limits on out-patient waiting times. Mrs Bottomley said she was telling every region now to set targets for out-patient times. Health ministers suspect privately, however, that progress will be limited by lack of cash.

On the conference floor, Mrs Bottomley faced unprecedented calls for a ban on tobacco advertising, but maintained the Government's reluctance to countenance one until the department's review of the effectiveness of advertising bans elsewhere is complete.