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Winchester's Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten survived two punishing elections in the space of a year against former Conservative health minister Gerry Malone, so it was a shock to hear his confession that he usually passes out 'at the sight of blood'.

The admission came after a trip to the pathology department at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in his constituency.

He managed to stay conscious during the visit, but nevertheless came away 'in a state of shock and concern'.

What had shaken him was the low level of the salaries paid to graduate trainee biomedical scientists responsible for diagnosing hundreds of conditions, including illnesses such as cancer, meningitis, and HIV.

One of the trainees earned£9,000, 'which is£2,000 less than he was earning a few weeks before he took up that job, when he was work ing in a chicken factory testing chicken for salmonella'.

Another trainee told him she had attended a 3am call-out to test for meningitis in a blood sample.Mr Oaten recalls: 'She looked exhausted. I assumed that was because of the pressure of work, but it was because she has to work in a bar most evenings to supplement her income.'

Mr Oaten's adjournment debate last month on pathology services was not the first in recent months to touch on the 'scandal' of NHS scientists' pay - Liberal Democrat colleague Vincent Cable held a similar debate before Christmas.But he is pleased that his 'update'managed to squeeze out of health minister John Denham the admission that the government's much-vaunted 26 per cent pay rise for low-end-of-the-scale NHS scientists affects just 100 out of 22,000 staff.

Mr Oaten has been doing a lot of thinking about his experience in the Royal Hampshire labs, not merely about pathology - which he considers underresourced and under-recognised, a Cinderella service - but about the NHS generally.

At a micro level he is concerned the South-East economic boom is driving away low-paid NHS staff.'London is not the only area where pay weighting is needed.There are parts of the South East where property prices are running at a higher rate than London.'

He proposes an unfashionable return to hospitals building their own staff accommodation, and at a macro level, his concerns are about NHS funding - not high enough, he says, although this interview was before chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget boost - and the ways this might be maximised.

His personal thinking is tending towards ways of increasing NHS income.Abolishing national insurance, perhaps, and replacing it with individual NHS funds, with contributions from both the state and individuals themselves.

A former PR manager who handled accounts for the Audit Commission among others, Mr Oaten hit the headlines in 1997 when a judge ordered his Winchester general election contest to be re-run because of irregularities.He romped home in the replay, and is now firmly settled in Westminster.

'It's certainly a lot more comfortable with a majority of 21,000 rather than a majority of two.'