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Health Insight April 2002: After the budget

  Following the budget Health Secretary Alan Milburn made a statement to the House of Commons outlining the key changes needed to ensure the investment delivered a world class health service. He also announced the publication of ‘Delivering the NHS Plan – next steps on investment; next steps on reform’. This, Mr Milburn said, set out ‘a completely new way of running the service’. Waiting times for operations and in A & E would fall, extra investment in major conditions would cut cancer and cardiac death rates, and services in mental health and for older people would be improved. By 2008 the Health Secretary envisaged increases in all NHS jobs, primary care services would be expanded and more elective surgery would take place in new freestanding surgical units or ‘diagnostic and treatment centres’. Hospital capacity would grow by at least 10,000 more general and acute beds.

In a response to Gordon Brown’s proposal for tax rises to fund NHS investment, Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith argued that the NHS could not be saved in its present form. He said Britain was ‘further away from the ideals of the NHS than at any other time in its history’. The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, however, welcomed the chancellor’s planned tax rise although he said it had come ‘anything up to five years too late’.

The media found plenty to write about after Gordon Brown’s budget. Most commentators wondered if, even with all the new resources, the NHS in its present form could deliver the modern service envisaged by Derek Wanless and his team. There is a question mark over whether or not the NHS has the management skills to bring about fundamental changes in the culture of the organisation and in its ability to deliver a more patient-orientated service. There is also the divide between health and social care which is seen as a huge stumbling block to delivering high quality care.

Finally, perhaps by strange coincidence, a report by the health think-tank, the King’s Fund, accused the government of interfering too much in the running of the health service. In an analysis of how the Labour government has managed the NHS since it came to power in 1997, the report says Tony Blair and his ministers have given an impression of ‘relentless, almost hyperactive intervention’. Ministers, it says, should ‘stop making heroic promises and buckle down to the unglamorous detail of building a good enough health service for the 21st century’.

Source: Guardian 18th April, Press releases (DoH), BBC Online

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  Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2001. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.