Chief Political Correspondent
A 10 per cent increase in the number of doctors being trained is to be announced today by Virginia Bottomley in a speech seen as her "swan-song" at the Department of Health.
The timing of the speech by the Secretary of State for Health is likely to revive speculation about the outcome of the July reshuffle, which ministerial sources said last night was crucial to John Major's attempts to rebuild his authority.
Mrs Bottomley, who has been at the department for six years, is expected to be moved to Environment or Employment, rather than be dropped from the Cabinet. Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, is strongly tipped to replace her.
Jeremy Hanley, the Tory chairman, is expected to be moved, while the chief whip, Richard Ryder, who has a back problem, is expected to step down from office.
David Maclean, a hard-hitting right-wing Home Office minister, is tipped for the chief whip's job of restoring discipline and steadying nerves on the Tory backbench. Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, may be made chairman of the party to deliver a bigger punch against Labour.
In her speech today to the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Mrs Bottomley is expected to mount a strong defence of her record at the Department of Health, including her handling of the closure of London hospitals. And she will disclose that she has accepted the recommendation of a Government advisory body to increase the intake for UK medical schools from 4,470 to 4,970 over the next five years.
She will accuse Labour of preparing an "act of vandalism" by proposing to abolish the Government's changes to the NHS, such as GP fundholding and NHS trust status for hospitals. She will argue that turning the clock back would lead to fossilisation of the NHS.
In a message clearly intended for her successors, Mrs Bottomley will commit the Government to continue with plans for more NHS innovation and efficiency.
She is also seeking to engage more NHS managers in long-term contracts, which could be seen as an attempt to frustrate Labour's threat to reduce their numbers if Labour wins power.
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