Mrs Dorrell puts her faith in the NHS

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Indy Politics
Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, and his wife, Penelope, are expecting their third child to be born this month in an NHS hospital.

The Health Secretary, whose son and daughter were born in NHS hospitals, has private health insurance, but his wife has put her faith in the state's healthcare system and will be using the NHS for the delivery of their third child.

Baroness Thatcher famously defended her use of private medicine in the midst of the 1987 general election campaign by insisting she wanted the doctor of her choice at the time of her choice.

Now, the Dorrell family's support for the NHS comes amid expectations that the Tory general election manifesto will commit the Tories to a publicly- funded health service, and will deny any switch to a general insurance- based system. Mr Dorrell, like Lady Thatcher, sees his private health insurance as a "safety net" for his family's health care, which can be called on when necessary.

Labour has abandoned its former commitments to remove private beds from the NHS, and the hostility towards private health cover has defused as more employers, including some unions, offer private health cover for their workers, but it could still be a flashpoint in the election, with Labour continuing to claim that the Tories are intent on privatising the NHS.

After Mr Dorrell's gaffe over ruling out Britain's entry into the European single currency, Tony Blair yesterday told John Major at Prime Minister's Question Time that Mr Dorrell should concentrate on the crisis in the health service, rather than the crisis in his party.

Mr Blair disclosed that an independent report tomorrow will show that many of Britain's Accident and Emergency units are facing "acute and chronic crisis". The problem was being made worse by the "internal market" in the NHS.

The report, by the NHS Support Federation, which said last night it lends no support to any party, will show "a faltering and pressurised service struggling to cope with demand". The report, entitled A and E: NHS in Distress, is critical of the market-based system which it claims makes a coordinated response to rising demand almost impossible.

"We cannot simply redirect resources from other hospital services to A and E. We need a constructive and full response to give the public new confidence in their A and E services," said Janet Porter, a casualty consultant at Southend.

Some NHS officials fear that some family doctors are passing their patients on to casualty units to jump the queues for hospital treatment. There were also fears that an unexplained six per cent rise in demand for emergency treatment would be repeated this year, overloading the system.

To cope with an expected upsurge in demand, Mr Dorrell allocated a fund of pounds 25m for intensive care, mental health and continuing care. The extra money was intended to help tide the NHS over until April, when the additional pounds 1.6bn for the health service announced in the Budget becomes available.