Labour attacked over GP targets

Prime Minister Tony Blair faced tough questioning over GP appointments on BBC’s Question Time show last night.

Audience member Diana Church told Mr Blair that her GP would not grant appointments unless they were made within 48 hours beforehand in order to meet targets. Mr Blair was forced to admit that he did not know such practises took place and he described them as “absurd”.

The Department of Health has insisted that only 2% of surgeries in England use the practise and has reportedly ordered all surgeries not to place time limits on arranging appointments.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Paul Burstow said that the Prime Minister’s response showed how “out of touch” he was with everyday life. He said: “It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister does not know how his target for booking appointments to see a GP is working on the ground. Patients are denied the flexibility and choice of an appointment convenient to them as GPs are forced to meet Labour’s targets.”

As the election campaign gathers pace in the last few days of campaigning, Labour has sought to deflect attention from the row over the Attorney General’s legal advice for the War in Iraq, by focusing on the economy. Chancellor Gordon Brown published a document focusing on Labour’s economic achievements, such as action on jobs, tax credits and pensions, while highlighting what the party called the “Tory threat” to economic stability.

Mr Blair and Mr Brown also unveiled a new poster this morning, focusing on the leadership choice in next week’s election. The poster featured two arrows, one which said: “Forward with Blair and Brown” and the other which said: “Back with Howard and Letwin”.

However, the Liberal Democrats criticised Mr Brown today for his refusal to participate in a televised debate on the economy. He accused the Chancellor of “running scared” and said: “If the Labour party really feel confident in their economic policies they should be prepared to debate them”.

The Conservatives have continued their campaign by focusing on one of leader Michael Howard’s priority topics: immigration. Mr Howard pledged not to “hang around” if the Conservatives win the election on May 5 and announced an “urgent action plan”, which included plans to set an annual immigration limit; create a Border Control Police Force; and introduce a points-style system for work permits.

Mr Howard also said that he wanted to move on from the row over Iraq, which has dominated election campaigning over the past few days. He said: “The British people want to move on from the debate of the last few days. Character is an important issue for them, but now they want to hear about something better.”

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to allow elderly people to “live with dignity and security” in their retirement, emphasising election pledges such as the party’s plan to introduce a Citizen’s Pension; free personal care for the elderly and replacement of the council tax with a local income tax.

The Liberal Democrats said that the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that pensioners would be better off under their party’s policies. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: “These ideas are fair, affordable and will provide dignity and security for many older people in this country.”


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