Hospitals crisis rebounds on Gordon

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's amazing omission of any reference to the National Health Service funding problems during his Budget speech in the Commons came back to haunt him within hours of his sitting down.

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown's amazing omission of any reference to the National Health Service funding problems during his Budget speech in the Commons came back to haunt him within hours of his sitting down.

Despite billions of pounds being thrown into the voracious mouth of the NHS, the cash crisis which has engulfed Suffolk's hospitals, leading to a number of them under the threat of closure, has started to spread like the plague.

Staff at The Royal Free Hospital, in Hampstead, north London, are facing the loss of about 480 posts under plans to save £25 million. Bosses at the hospital - whose staff were praised for the way they handled the consequences of the July 7 terror attacks in the capital - have to 7% of annual turnover and repay millions of pounds of overspending to the Government.

From Staffordshire to Cornwall to Kent, swingeing cuts in services and staff are being implemented by NHS Trusts, begging the question: just where's the extra cash gone all these years?

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Yes, hospital waiting lists have been reduced, cancer services improved, and more doctors and nurses are being employed, but what's the point of hiring nurses only to sack them a few years later?

Some of the extra NHS funding has gone into a top heavy management structure and the creation of well paid bureaucratic jobs - hundreds of which have been abolished as once again the NHS is reorganised, leaving to massive pay offs for managers.

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And if the NHS really is the patient-led service the Government proclaims, why have hospitals up and down the land spent a small fortune on works of art and sculptures?

Yesterday, the Chancellor's tour of television and radio studios to sing the praises of his Budget turned into a public relations disaster as he faced tough questions on why he has not given cash to NHS Trusts to pay off their debts.

Not true, said Mr Brown. There was no need to mention extra cash help because it had been announced earlier! “When we talk about deficits faced by some trusts, most organisations in the NHS are getting more money next year and more money the year after.”

The Budget was a massive own goal for the Chancellor and would-be Prime Minister. Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb accused ministers of being in denial. Tory leader David Cameron took full advantage, heading to Wolverhampton's New Cross hospital to highlight the problems facing the NHS.

The Chancellor was pointed in the right direction on Monday by Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, who suggested that the billions of pounds surplus in the National Insurance Fund should be diverted to pay off hospital debts.

Mr Brown ignored this advice. As a consequence, the NHS funding crisis threatens to overshadow his remaining months at the Treasury before he moves into No 10.


MPs who scream and shout at each other across the Commons chamber need walk no further than 100 yards to see how dignified debate should be conducted.

The House of Lords is the very essence of genteel civility, far removed from the public school antics of the elected members of all parties.

Take the typically British exchange on Wednesday between Lord Tebbit - a noted Commons bruiser in the days of Margaret Thatcher - and the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt John Gladwin.

Peers were debating once again the controversial anti-terror Bill, but they ended their resistance to the “the glorification of terrorism” when a Liberal Democrat amendment omitting any reference to glorification, was defeated by 172 votes to 60, after the Tories and the bishops decided they could no longer delay the measure reaching the statute book.

Lord Tebbit, whose wife was severely maimed in the IRA attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984, maintained his opposition to the word “glorification” to the very end and Bishop John rose to tell peers: “It is not often from these Benches (the House of Bishops) that one supports what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has said. But I do-very much so.”

To which Lord Tebbit countered: “My Lords, I can only say to the right reverend prelate, `Welcome to a sinner come to repentance.'” Said the Bishop: “In this season of the year, there is forgiveness as well.”

Speaking in the debate Bishop John asked rhetorically: “What do we mean when we use this language? Are those who are fighting in Iraq insurgents or terrorists? How do we define the IRA? These are difficult questions.

“It needs to be placed on the record, as we think about what is not a very tidy use of language-the use of `glorification'- that, when we on these Benches are engaged in giving glory to God, that is an expression of the heart and of the feeling of the community, and the consequences of that cannot be spelt out in terms of the actions that flow from it. There is looseness in the language here, which I think the courts will have some difficulty with.”

It was the third time the Lords had voted on the issue and the Bill will now become law.

Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal, urging the House to back the Government, told peers “glorification is an example of indirect encouragement and is included to guide the courts as has been the case in previous legislation. The need to have it for illustrative purposes is clear and is something that the ordinary man in the street would understand with the greatest of ease.”

The Bill, which follows the London bombings of last year, has had a stormy passage through Parliament. Tony Blair suffered his first ever Commons defeat when MPs rejected the Government bid to increase the time terror suspects could be held from 14 days to 90 days. Instead they backed a 28-day limit.

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