Outfoxing the government

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 19 May 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1202

Weighing up the Conservatives' health policies and their past record on the NHS, Jo Revill believes that the best the party can hope for is to neutralise the issue

As Britain prepares for a general election, there are few signs that any party is willing to engage in a ground breaking debate over the NHS. A radical look at funding is off the agenda for both Labour and the Conservatives, who now travel in much the same direction on many issues, such as reform of general practice services. In their election manifesto, the Conservatives pledge their commitment to the NHS and promise to match Labour's spending on health until the year 2004.

But one of the biggest differences is that the Conservatives would reintroduce tax breaks—or abolish tax disincentives as they put it—on private medical insurance, in the belief that the only way to guarantee an expansion of the service is to encourage more people to pay into it.

The national insurance contributions that employers pay on company medical schemes would be abolished, as would the tax that employees have to pay on their company policies. These two moves would cost the Exchequer around £470m ($660m), but Dr Liam Fox, the shadow health secretary, believes it would encourage individuals to put a much greater sum into health care. Dr Fox also wants to see far greater use of the …

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