A leaked Department of Health memo on the public spending talks has revealed that health secretary Kenneth Clarke has been advised to cut his bid to the Treasury for extra money by £431m, and that he is prepared to lose another £500m.Mr Clarke had originally asked for a £2.76bn increase in health spending next year. Commentators viewed the leak as 'very damaging'to Mr Clarke and a 'godsend'to Treasury chief secretary Norman Lamont.

The government is 'stuffing' health authorities with non-executive directors who do not represent their communities, shadow health secretary Robin Cook has claimed. According to his survey, of the 697 people appointed,60 per cent of those who are also local councillors are members of the Conservative Party.

Industrialists, lawyers, business people and accountants make up 58 per cent.

Childcare vouchers worth£25 a week are to be offered to employees by North West Thames regional health authority as part of its recruitment and retention strategy.

It estimates that about 50 of its 800 staff will be eligible for the scheme.

Cuts hit London's health service as health authorities struggled to balance their books before April. Waiting list admissions at Westminster Hospital have been frozen indefinitely, and Charing Cross Hospital is taking only limited emergencies. Riverside HA, faced with a£6m overspend, closed 69 beds in both units, cancelled outpatient clinics and withdrew all agency staff.

A big questionmark hangs over the future of RHAs, King's Fund fellow Chris Ham has said. In five years' time they would be fewer in number and effectively be regional offices of the NHS Management Executive. This would enable them to retain control of trusts, he argued.