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Blair says health reforms at "crunch point"

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 18 (Reuters) Prime Minister Tony Blair said today that Britain had reached ''crunch point'' in its health service reforms and called on the public to hold its nerve as changes to the National Health Service (NHS) take effect.

The government's aim was to create an NHS where users are able to choose and exercise power over the system that provides the service, Blair said.

''We have now reached crunch point where the process of transition from one system to another is taking place,'' Blair told an audience of doctors and nurses.

The prime minister said reforms introduced in 2000 were transforming the NHS from a ''get what you are given'' service to one that is more of a ''get what you want'' service, moulded around the patient's decisions.

Blair's speech came amid mounting criticism of the inequities caused by the shift to performance-related funding within the NHS.

Reports today showed that some general practitioners (GPs) were being paid up to 250,000 pounds a year, while four children's hospitals said they might have to cut life-saving equipment because of a 22 million pound funding gap.

Figures from the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants seen by the BBC showed that GPs' wages had risen by up to 25 per cent since new GP contracts were introduced in 2004, with the average family doctor earning more than 100,000 pounds and some earning up to 250,000 pounds a year.

The government introduced the new GP contracts to reward the best-performing practices.

But four children's hospitals in Liverpool, London, Sheffield and Birmingham wrote to the government saying that a similar payment-by-results system had caused them to suffer a 22 million pound funding gap that could jeopardise life-saving treatment.

REUTERS OM HT1550

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