Tories target Labour hospital closure plan heady hjeasdy

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Indy Politics
All Tory candidates are to challenge their Labour opponents on hospital closures after revelations in yesterday's Independent that the party is planning to close hospitals to save pounds 2bn pay for dental checks, less rationing of treatment and better salaries for doctors and nurses.

Although Labour has denied that it has any such plans, the Conservatives moved swiftly yesterday to exploit the revelation, which is bound to spark public anger.

Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, wrote to all his party's prospective MPs enclosing a list of hospitals which he said would be at risk under Labour's plans. They should challenge Labour candidates to say that the future of those facilities was safe, he said.

At a briefing with journalists, he said the report in yesterday's Independent "blows the gaff" on the opposition's health policies. The Conservatives have repeatedly challenged Labour to say that it will raise health spending year on year.

"It is simple arithmetic that within the overall total they will have to impose cuts in the hospital service to make the figures add up.

"The story in The Independent blows the gaff on their health policy. We know and have known for some time that the key difference between the Conservatives' health policy and Labour's is that the Conservatives will deliver."

Mr Dorrell also highlighted a survey of fundholding general practitioners in which more than nine out of 10 said they would oppose Labour's plans to abolish practice-based budgets.

Chris Smith, Labour's health spokesman, reacted angrily yesterday, dismissing the report - which detailed plans which Labour believes will raise pounds 2bn over a number of years - as "complete rubbish". He has, however, confirmed that a Labour government would try to save money by merging the managements of NHS trusts.

"It is this government who cannot be trusted with our hospitals. They have closed 245 since 1990. Unlike the Tories we are interested in what is best for patients, not creating more bureaucrats," he said.

Mr Smith added that Labour had put a moratorium on further hospital closures while an independent review of the hospital needs of the capital was carried out.

The party has also said that local hearings should be held wherever the closure of a hospital or hospital facility is promised. There was new evidence yesterday that a number of senior figures in hospital trusts believe their futures lie in mergers with neighbouring trusts.

At a debate in Manchester on the subject last week, organised by health consultants McClean, Jones, McCarthy, several argued in favour of mergers. The participants, who were all trust chairmen, chief executives or doctors, voted by 56 to 34 in favour of a motion that trusts should merge in order for health services to improve.

One trust chairman said: "Which ever party wins the general election on the first of May, the incoming government will want some mergers. Indeed it is probably desirable that the more obvious trusts should merge as soon as possible before the public bonds with them."

Mr Dorrell has sent a list of 66 "at risk" hospitals to candidates, based on a suggestion from the Audit Commission that those hospitals which have fewer than 50,000 patients registering each year should be examined to see whether they can provide adequate quality of care.

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