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Judge us on NHS record, says angry Blair

Published on 09/03/05 at 01:13pm

A row over a pensioner's repeatedly cancelled shoulder operation has escalated into a key election battle on the state of the health service.

The Prime Minister said Margaret Dixon's experience was exceptional and asked the electorate to judge his handling of the NHS as a whole and not on one case being "ruthlessly exploited by a serial opportunist".

Speaking at the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Dundee, Tony Blair said: "If you believe the NHS today is worse than it was when Mr Howard and the Conservatives ran it, don't vote for me. Vote for him."

The case has been taken up by Conservative party leader Michael Howard, a cabinet minister in the previous Tory government, as he looks to gain ground over the Prime Minister on the issue of the NHS.

Mrs Dixon, a 69-year-old pensioner from Warrington, needs to undergo risky surgery on her shoulder, after a fall in August last year, but with only four of the necessary high dependency beds available at Warrington General Hospital more urgent cases keep taking priority.

With the Conservative Party dubbing the row the 'battle of Margaret's shoulder' co-chairman Dr Liam Fox claimed Mr Blair was rattled and fast losing the public's trust.

Responding to the Prime Minister's conference speech, Dr Fox said: "Mr Blair said he is angry, but in fact he is very rattled that after eight years in power and just months before a general election, people realise that his promise to 'save the NHS' was just talk."

The row has given Labour another chance to claim years of under-investment in the health service by previous Conservative governments, while the Tories are using it to highlight the changes they would make to the NHS if elected.

Dr Fox promised a Conservative government would take action to clean up hospitals and shorten waiting lists.

Labour plans that by the end of 2008 patients would have to wait no more than 18 weeks from "the door of the GP's surgery to the door of the operating theatre".

On the subject of hospital cleanliness, a current theme of the Conservative's pre-election advertising, Mr Blair said: "MRSA is a problem, though never forget who let it into our system as a major infection. It didn't arrive on 2 May 1997. It burgeoned in the Tory years. It's just that we publish the facts about it."

Meanwhile, Mrs Dixon's operation is currently scheduled for 21 March with her family vowing to continue their fight if she has to wait again. 

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NHS to be key election issue as Blair unveils pledge 

Tuesday , February 15, 2005

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