The government's reliance on the private sector in the NHS will be undermined by the service's 'dreadful' business reputation, according to healthcare consultant Newchurch.It claims the NHS is seen by the private sector as costly and time-consuming in its procedures and 'notoriously fickle' in its attitude.'There is no great queue of major companies rushing to risk their reputations, share prices and profits to help the government sort out the NHS, ' it says.

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People fail to turn up for nearly 17 million appointments with GPs and 5.5 million with practice nurses every year, says a survey by the Doctor Patient Partnership and Institute of Healthcare Management.

The DPP claims waiting times could be reduced if patients cancelled in advance and called on surgeries to install dedicated phonelines for cancelling appointments.

A league table produced by the World Health Organisation has ranked the NHS as 24th in the world in terms of healthcare efficiency.Both Andorra and Saudi Arabia ranked higher, with Italy and France in third and fourth place.Published in the British Medical Journal, the survey examined equal access to healthcare, the responsiveness of the service and the amount of money everyone contributed.The Department of Health stressed the survey was based on estimated figures from 1993 to 1997.

Prescriptions dispensed in the community have risen by 4.2 per cent, according to new DoH figures.In 2000, the number of items handed out rose to 552 million from the year before.The net ingredient cost of all prescriptions dispensed was£5.6 billion - an increase of 3.7 per cent in real terms.But the average net ingredient cost per prescription fell 0.4 per cent in real terms to£10.12.