NHS cash should come from taxes - Blair

Increased funding for the NHS should come from general taxation, rather than private health insurance, the Prime Minister insisted today.

Mr Blair stressed the need for extra resources at Commons question time after the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement pointed the way to tax rises as a means of funding massive investment in the NHS.

Opposition leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of having "handcuffed the Government ... to the state monopoly."

Amid loud Labour jeers, he said: "You've condemned patients to wait longer, suffer more and die earlier than our neighbours in Europe."

As the debate about NHS funding got under way, Mr Blair pinned his colours firmly to the mast of boosting resources through taxation.

"We believe in an NHS system that is funded out of general taxation, free at the point of use," he declared.

"The purpose of the Conservatives is to make sure that people are forced to pay for the treatment they have."

Challenged by Mr Duncan Smith over increased hospital waiting times, he conceded: "Yes, in some areas, there is still a very great deal to do."

The Tory leader accused him of having "flunked" the test and claimed Mr Blair had no clue how to improve the NHS and no cure for its ills.

Mr Duncan Smith demanded: "Has the number of patients waiting more than an hour in casualty gone up or down since you became Prime Minister?"

Mr Blair replied: "It is correct that the figures have gone up.

"However, the number of patients waiting overall has actually fallen, by over 100,000, and in particular the number of patients waiting over six months has fallen."

Mr Duncan Smith asked in what other areas the health service had gone "backwards," the word used by Labour chairman Charles Clarke.

Mr Blair told him Mr Clarke had said: "There have been massive improvements in some parts of the NHS but other areas where we have gone backwards."

He added: "Let me give you one example of where treatment has improved. In 1997, 63% of patients urgently referred with suspected cancer were seen within two weeks, today the figure is 93%.

"By the end of this year there will be 30 new anti-cancer drugs made available to NHS patients.

By the end of next month we will have successfully introduced a maximum one-month wait from GP referral to treatment for children's and testicular cancer and leukaemia.

"By the end of this year a maximum one month wait from diagnosis to treatment for breast cancer patients.

"This year alone we are putting into the NHS over 100 new cancer scanners."

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