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Political meddling hurting the NHS, says top doctor

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, June 7 (Reuters) One of Britain's most senior doctors will urge the government today to halt its ''bad policies and shocking incompetence,'' which he says are damaging patient care and wasting money.

''Care is suffering, jobs are disappearing, patients and staff are paying the price,'' Paul Miller, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, will tell doctors at a conference.

More than 10,000 job cuts have been announced in recent weeks as health trusts struggle to balance their books.

The National Health Service ran up what is expected to be a deficit of between 600 million and 700 million pounds in England last year and health administrators are under pressure to get their finances back into order.

''The deficits are clustered in a few areas and are caused by local service management and strategic planning failure, often caused by political interference with proper local service planning,'' Miller will say, according to pre-released extracts.

''But most particularly they are caused by bad policies and shocking incompetence inflicted on the whole service from the top, from Whitehall.'' Miller will also criticise the government over money spent on failed hospital building projects and private treatment centres.

He wants Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to abandon further health service reorganisation, end the hiring of external management consultants and stop thinking that moving care out of hospital will save money.

''Something is going very badly wrong with these health policies. It is time to call a halt,'' he will say.

Hewitt has been under fierce criticism from health workers and professionals over her handling of the NHS, and was heckled and booed at a nurses' conference.

Recent rounds of job cuts have overshadowed the government's record of raising spending on the NHS to a record 80 billion pounds this year.

Staff numbers have risen by 300,000 since Labour came to power in 1997 to over 1.3 million, making the NHS Europe's largest employer.

Reuters SK VP0540

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