Blair: care not beds matters in NHS

Blair defends bed cuts
Blair defends bed cuts

The NHS cannot be judged solely on the number of beds available, the prime minister argued today.

Speaking during prime minister's questions, Tony Blair defended the state of the NHS.

An increase in day surgeries means the health service can treat more people with reduced waiting times while cutting the number of beds, Mr Blair argued.

The number of acute care beds has increased, he added, while some have been cut because of policy changes, for example learning disability beds.


Conservative leader David Cameron argued that the prime minister was "running away from his promises" by cutting 9,000 beds after promising an additional 7,000 in 2000.

Mr Blair rejected this claim, arguing the "most important thing is people are getting better care" and that the overall situation in the NHS has improved.

People used to die waiting for cardiac care, he said, but now the average waiting time for treatment is three months. Waiting times have fallen across the board, he stated, the number of doctors and nurses has increased and the health service's building stock has improved.

Addressing MPs, Mr Blair also defended ID cards, claiming they were the only way of tracking illegal immigrants and ensuring they could be deported.

Asked about the UK's discussions with the US on anti ballistic missile defence, he said that discussions were at too early a stage for a full debate, but promised to discuss the matter with the House when appropriate.

Following the recent focus on gun crime, Mr Blair defended the government's record on knife crime, stating that it would be introducing tougher sentences for the possession of knives.

Labour is also addressing the causes of crime, he claimed, citing Sure Start, investment in schools, extended school days and inner-city rejuvenation.

Responding to a question from Michael Meacher, who last week announced his plans to stand for Labour leader, Mr Blair called for a continued commitment to New Labour principles, adding that it was "unlikely" Mr Meacher would ever be in his position.

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