Health secretary Frank Dobson this week ruled out any 'fundamental changes in the way the NHS is financed', and launched a vigorous defence of its role in making the British economy more competitive.

Speaking at a conference to launch events marking the NHS's 50th anniversary, he said the government review of public spending was 'to make sure it is sustainable and increasing in the future'.

He acknowledged that some commentators were talking about other funding methods, but added: 'They won't be influencing the future of the health service.'

Mr Dobson's comments on Tuesday follow undertakings he gave last week to boost health service funding in coming years and reverse the continuing pressure to make cutbacks.

Answering strong criticism that New Labour had failed to stop service cuts, he told a Public Health Alliance conference in Sheffield that he was aware health authorities were still 'strapped for cash'.

He was tackled over a pounds7m budget shortfall in Northamptonshire which Maria York, of the pressure group Action with Communities in Rural England, claimed would mean closures in community clinics and would exacerbate rural poverty.

Mr Dobson said such cuts were a move 'entirely in the wrong direction'.

But Labour had inherited the financial situation.

'Ultimately there will be more resources and things will be improved,' he said.

In a separate move last week, NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton sounded a warning to the service about complacency over resources.

He signalled that positive reaction to the recent white paper from all sectors must not be allowed to mask NHS funding problems.

He added: 'Implementation will be very difficult, especially with the NHS under severe financial and service pressure at the moment. Whatever we do, we must not become complacent about resources and we must remain realistic about what we can achieve in the short term.'