Tory scheme to help meet cost of private health

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People who pay for private health treatment would get part of the cost met by the Government under a Tory policy that was announced last night.

People who pay for private health treatment would get part of the cost met by the Government under a Tory policy that was announced last night.

Although the Tories admitted they would face Labour allegations of creating a "two-tier health system", they insisted their plan would help the sick to get treated more quickly and relieve some pressure on the National Health Service.

The Tories said they would also restore tax relief for people who take out private health insurance, which was scrapped by Labour. The two policies will create a clear dividing line between the two main parties on health at the next general election.

Despite a concerted drive to switch the spotlight away from internal feuds and on to policy, the first day of the Tories' annual conference in Bournemouth was also marked by battles between the party's old guard and Iain Duncan Smith's team.

Theresa May, the party chairman, sought to exorcise the Tory ghosts who have dominated the run-up to the conference, including John Major and Jeffrey Archer. In a hard-hitting speech, she said: "In recent years, a number of politicians have behaved disgracefully and then compounded their offences by trying to evade responsibility. We all know who they are. Let's face it, some of them have stood on this platform." She said the party should stop "hypocritical finger-wagging" and "demonising minorities".

Later, when he was speaking at The Independent's fringe meeting, the former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke criticised Mr Duncan Smith for disowning the John Major government. Mr Clarke said: "We mustn't go back to our old quarrels. There is no point in trashing the Major government's record at large."

John Gummer, another member of Mr Major's Cabinet, said Mr Duncan Smith's team was "bereft of experience and short of real talent". In a sideswipe at Ms May, he said the party needed a "real heavyweight" as chairman and said senior figures including Mr Clarke should be brought back to the Tory front bench.

The bold but risky policy on health could be modelled on the system in Finland, where the state pays 60 per cent of pay-as-you-go private treatment. Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, said the Tories should help the rising number of people – currently 250,000 a year – who do not have health insurance but who use their own money to buy care.

"It's not just the well-off. These patients are often elderly, using their hard-earned savings to get the treatment they need in order to maintain their quality of life," he said. "Helping them helps everyone in the NHS."

Rejecting Labour's charge, he said there was already a two-tier health system because people who could afford private insurance, including millions of trade unionists, had the option of private treatment.

On tax relief for those taking out health insurance, Dr Fox said: "When we return to office, we will recognise the contributions of those who take out insurance on top of their NHS contributions."

Pledging to "take politicians out of the NHS", Dr Fox said the Tories would cut its central bureaucracy dramatically and go further than Labour by allowing all hospitals to apply for foundation status free from Whitehall control.

He said the Tories had decided against charging for GP visits because that would hit the poorest, but they would bring in charges for patients who failed to turn up for appointments.