Hewitt to stand firm on NHS deficits

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Patricia Hewitt will signal today that she intends to ride out the storm over NHS deficits, which have led to operations being delayed. She will say that the NHS is on track to end waiting lists by 2008.

The Health Secretary will use a speech to the London School of Economics to hit back at critics who have accused her of presiding over a "meltdown" in NHS care, putting at risk 5,000 front-line jobs in the health service as a result of cash shortages.

Ms Hewitt will say that within two years, NHS primary care trusts and hospitals should be in surplus or balancing their books. She may risk infuriating her critics, but Ms Hewitt will say that the reforms are exposing deficits previously "swept under the carpet".

"She will mount a robust defence of the whole system of reform," said a senior ministerial official. "She will take on all the criticism she has had, particularly on the financial situation and also some of the attacks over foundation hospitals and the use of the independent sector, payment by results.''

Ms Hewitt yesterday rejected claims by a think tank, Reform, that the NHS faces a deficit of nearly £7bn by 2010 unless a "productivity miracle" was achieved.