Spending on private hospitals would rise

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Liam Fox, the Conservative health spokesman, signalled his aim to expand private-sector health care and insurance and use private hospitals to "speed the treatment of NHS patients".

Liam Fox, the Conservative health spokesman, signalled his aim to expand private-sector health care and insurance and use private hospitals to "speed the treatment of NHS patients".

Dr Fox reiterated his pledge to match Labour's planned spending on health care, but said that spending would have to rise in the private sector as well as the NHS.

"If we want to see total spending on health care brought up to European levels, we will need to see the private sector increased as well as the NHS," he told the Conservative conference. "That means making private health care more attractive."

Dr Fox said that the private sector needed "a shake-up" to make insurance cheaper and more accessible. He said a Tory government would abolish tax disincentives to take up private health insurance.

"By improving choice within the NHS and making access to the private sector cheaper and easier, we can bring our spending on health up to the levels of other Western countries and close the real health gap," he said.

Dr Fox announced plans to cut waiting times for the most seriously ill by treating them ahead of those with minor ailments. He said: "Investment will be directed towards priority areas, beginning with cardiac and cancer services."

He said he wanted to see a return to "matron's values" on hospital wards.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, accused Dr Fox of wanting to create a two-tier healthcare system, "with fast-track treatment for those who can afford to pay, subsidised by the taxpayer, and slower, second-rate services for those who cannot".

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