Letters - Reporters under fire

Bulent Yusuf's article about the closure of Egunkaria (Observations, 17 March) gives the impression that the threat to press freedom in the Basque country comes only from the Madrid government, the courts and the police. Sadly, this is not the case. In recent years, ETA has systematically targeted journalists who don't share its world-view, killing and wounding those who have criticised its campaign of terror. The Basque country is the only part of western Europe where reporters routinely employ bodyguards and where newspaper offices are high-security fortresses.

In May 2000, for example, an ETA gunman murdered a columnist for El Mundo who had spent five years in prison for his role in the anti-Franco resistance. In May 2001, a letter bomb maimed a radio journalist; six months later, an ETA bomb failed to explode outside the flat of El PaIs's San Sebastian correspondent; she, with her husband, a television reporter, has since been forced to leave the Basque country.

Stephen Hayward
London E3

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.