NewsGeneral election health policy. . . AIDS cash misused. . . DoH's inferior statistics. . . BUPA bids to stop the rot

With a general election no more than eight months away and opinion polls showing Labour with a 2 per cent lead, commentators are beginning to wonder about the precise nature of the party's health policy. Its ideas on 'flexifunding', whereby hospitals which hit agreed targets would get extra cash, have been left behind after advice from managers. Some pundits suggest the only real difference between Labour and the Conservatives would be the degree of competition and freedom allowed to provider units.

Money ring-fenced for AIDSrelated services has been used by health authorities for other purposes without approval, the National Audit Office has found.

After AIDS allocations rose steeply in 1989-90 to£121m, HAs underspent the sum by£15m. North West Thames, for example used£8.5m for its capital programme, which had been badly hit by the property slump.

Department of Health statistics are not good enough to monitor the effects of the internal market reforms or progress on Health of the Nation targets, according to the Social Science Forum, an independent lobby group. It blames changes in data collection, definitions, coding and the lack of appropriate computer hardware and software. The problem was highlighted recently when the government announced waiting-list reductions at a press conference, while shadow health secretary Robin Cook met reporters outside with figures showing lists had grown.

Private health insurer BUPA is introducing pre-authorisation of claims as one of a series of measures to drive down hospital prices in a bid to reverse record losses. It is believed to be the first time that a UK insurer has done this.

Experts warned that if it restricted where subscribers sought treatment they would drop BUPA.