Portillo to pledge private health boost

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Indy Politics

Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, will today commit the Tories to outspend Labour on health through a huge expansion of private care, if they regain power.

Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, will today commit the Tories to outspend Labour on health through a huge expansion of private care, if they regain power.

The controversial move will provoke Labour claims that the Tories want to privatise the National Health Service. It will ensure health becomes a key election battleground.

The Tories will tackle head-on what they call Labour's "scaremongering", by saying greater use of the private sector is the only way to boost overall health spending in Britain.

They plan to reverse Labour's decision to scrap tax relief on private health insurance for pensioners and the provision in this year's Budget of a £100m tax burden on employers who offer private care for their workers.

The party would bring in measures to encourage companies and trade unions to provide health insurance and to "tear down the Berlin Wall" between the public and private sectors by ensuring much greater co-operation between them.

In his keynote speech to the Tory conference in Bourne- mouth, Mr Portillo will promise to match Labour's plans to raise health spending from £54.2bn this year to £68.7bn over the next three years.

Although Tony Blair has pledged to bring the country's level of health spending up to the European average, the Tories will say we still lag behind because Britons spend less on health than their continental counterparts. In the United Kingdom, 83.7 per cent of health spending is by the state, compared with 76.4 per cent in France, 74.6 per cent in Germany and 70.5 per cent in Austria.

Mr Portillo will say: "Our neighbours in Europe know you cannot rely on taxes alone to finance health. They would think it silly that families in Britain are encouraged to spend money on their home, on their continued education and on their retirement, but are discouraged through dogma from spending their own money on their health." Attacking Labour's "outdated ideology", he will say a modern health service should not have to "rely on a wartime spirit of make-do-and-mend". Britain will not have a world-class service while it holds back the expansion of the private sector.

"Britain spends too little on health... Where Labour's horizons end, ours begin. We'll spend much more money on the health service. And attract extra money too."

Mr Portillo will be backed up by Liam Fox, the party's health spokesman, who will accuse Labour of having a "vendetta" against private care. Dr Fox, a former GP, will say: "A bigger cake benefits everyone if a real partnership is introduced. To encourage company schemes we will abolish disincentives when and where we can to ensure alternative provision is available to as wide a range of our fellow citizens as possible. Choice in health care should not just be for the well-off."

Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, is expected to stir the Tory debate on Europe today by spelling out the possible benefits of the euro when he addresses the Conservative Group for Europe.

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