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Letwin: 'NHS will not exist under Tories'

Andy McSmith
Sunday 06 June 2004 10:05
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Oliver Letwin has reportedly told a private meeting that the "NHS will not exist" within five years of a Conservative election victory.

Oliver Letwin has reportedly told a private meeting that the "NHS will not exist" within five years of a Conservative election victory.

The Shadow Chancellor said that the health service would instead be a "funding stream handing out money to pay people where they want to go for their healthcare", according to a member of the audience.

The remarks, which have been furiously denied by Mr Letwin, were last night seized on by Labour as evidence of the Tories' true intentions towards the NHS.

It is not disputed that Mr Letwin met a gathering of construction industry representatives in his constituency of Dorset West on 14 May. During the meeting he urged the group of around six local businessmen to work together to win contracts for a new PFI hospital to be built in Dorchester.

Mr Letwin then astonished his audience, however, by saying that within five years of a Conservative election victory "the NHS will not exist anymore", according to one of those who were present.

Although Mr Letwin's aides later insisted that his remarks had been misinterpreted, it is the second time in recent weeks that his candour has landed him in trouble.

As reported in this newspaper, the Shadow Chancellor told a group of economists that it would be "irrational" to tell voters by how much he wanted to cut public spending. That prompted a gleeful Labour Party to claim that he had let slip a secret Tory plan to cut £135bn from the government budget.

Paul Boateng, the Treasury Chief Secretary, lost no time in seizing on the latest apparent gaffe.

"This proves what we have said all along," he said. "Oliver Letwin and the Tories want to abolish the NHS as we know it. The Tory agenda is one of cuts, charges and privatisation."

However, a Conservative Party spokesman said: "Oliver Letwin categorically said nothing of the sort. What he told the meeting was that within five years a Conservative government would have broken down the monolithic bureaucracy of the health service, putting decision-making in the hands of the hospitals rather than the Whitehall pen-pushers. The result will be a far more efficient and effective NHS.

He added: "As with a report two weeks ago that Mr Letwin had secret plans to make vast cuts in the public services, this report is complete fiction."

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