NHS: Privatisation and 'discrimination', and Andy Murray's Wimbledon exit

The state of the NHS - and prospects for its future - feature heavily in Thursday's papers.

The Guardian says cancer services in parts of Staffordshire could be the first in the country to be privatised, with contracts worth £1.2bn up for grabs for private firms, and reports the concerns of unions about the move.

For the Daily Telegraph, a more immediate problem is that pensioners are being denied operations by some NHS trusts. It records charities describing the situation as "alarming and inexcusable" and says Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt declared the situation illegal.

The Daily Mirror highlights the "best and worst" regions when it comes to allowing OAPs colorectal cancer surgery, hip replacements or gallbladder removal, as identified in a report by the Royal College of Surgeons and charity Age UK. Its editorial argues: "It is completely unacceptable that a postcode lottery is denying life-saving operations to elderly people in some parts of England."

Meanwhile, there's grim news for the health service in the Sun, which writes up the results of an MPs report predicting that an extra £4bn a year will be needed by 2016 to cope with a "crippling rise in long-term illnesses".

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'Data tennis'
David Cameron playing tennis in 2008

The NHS was the main subject of a chaotic Prime Minister's Questions, during which David Cameron and Labour's Ed Miliband traded claims about which party best looked after the service.

Dead hand?

Ed Miliband during Prime Minister's Questions

Labour leader Ed Miliband has come under fire from his policy adviser, according to the Daily Telegraph. It says it's been passed a recording of Jon Cruddas complaining that Mr Miliband has failed to reconcile "different camps" at the head of the party, weeks after criticising the "dead hand" of the leader's office. An apparent lack of support prompts Times cartoonist Peter Brookes to picture him as Caesar - several knives in his back - complaining: "Hey guys, when I said 'unite behind me', I didn't mean..."

The Independent's Andrew Grice says Mr Miliband's "reviews stink" and examines how fair is the case against him, in terms of criticism of his image, approach to business and perceived indecision. Meanwhile, the paper's editorial column suggests that "superficial matters" - such as how someone comes across on television - "weigh far more heavily than they should on a politician's popularity and electability". However, it suggests he is "showing the glimmerings of a vision for the future".

It's summed up by Times sketchwriter Ann Treneman as: "How politics works or, in this case, doesn't, part 111."

She continues: "Statistics flew, not unlike pigs, across the room, but the more 'facts' we were given, the more confusing it was."

"Data tennis," was how the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts described the performance, saying Mr Miliband "kept asking David Cameron specific, leading, statistic-laden posers which the prime minister, as is his wont, responded to with deviation, ambiguity, obscurity, repetition and not the slightest hesitation".

John Crace, in the Guardian, writes: "As the two men traded unverified statistics, their backbenchers mindlessly roared their approval while remaining clueless of the accuracy of what was being said."

For the Telegraph, Mr Miliband's line of attack: a "proprietorial approach - the notion that not only is the NHS Labour's, but that it represents the purest manifestation of its benevolence - simply does not wash". It argues that while the idea of free treatment at the point of delivery "may have seemed magnificently enlightened in 1948, it is unrealistic today".

The Sun agrees, arguing: "The health service needs a huge injection of new cash every year to cope with a rapidly-increasing and ageing population for whom being overweight or obese is the norm. Without it the NHS will crumble. Both main parties have to face up to that."

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'Murray meltdown'
Composite image showing Andy Murray after his defeat and the Duchess of Cambridge watching from the Royal Box

If Andy Murray looked slightly bemused by losing his Wimbledon crown in a straight sets defeat to Grigor Dimitrov, the anguish of the nation's tennis fans is perhaps best captured in a series of photographs showing the Duchess of Cambridge's facial contortions during the match which find their way onto front pages.

Mind the gap

Boys rush to class at Eton College

Children from fee-paying schools will have earned almost £200,000 more than their state school peers by the time they are 42, reports the i, exposing an "education earnings gap". It quotes campaigners describing the situation as a "waste of talent" and calling for poorer pupils to get greater access to public schools.

However, the Telegraph interprets the research differently. "Putting a child through private school increase their earnings in later life, but by significantly less than the annual cost of their education," it reports. It draws this conclusion from a section of the research comparing those from similar, better-off, backgrounds. In such casas the annual average "pay gap" was £3,603, less than the typical £12,153 cost of day schools, it adds.

"Kate's agony at Murray meltdown," is how the Daily Mail presents the story, while the Daily Mirror reckons the Scot had "Kate at break point". The Sun says the defending champion's loss capped a "rotten month" for Brits, while the Daily Star declares: "So ends another painful summer of British sport."

Other papers wonder if there was more to the defeat than a "bad day at the office" - Murray's explanation, as quoted by the Daily Express. "What happened five minutes before play?" wonders the Daily Telegraph, in reference to a curse reportedly uttered by the player during the match. "His comments appeared to be aimed at the players' box, where his coach Amelie Mauresmo, girlfriend Kim Sears and mother Judy Murray were sitting," it says.

Likewise, the Times asks: "Who threw Murray off his game?" alongside a photographic montage of glum fans watching outside the court on the big screens at "Murray Mound".

The Guardian captures the atmosphere at what was once known as "Henman Hill", saying: "As the cheers of the thousands baking in scorching temperatures on the hill fell progressively quieter, it became clear that for this year at least, British tennis had returned to its familiar cycle of hope, a few days of fervent belief, and crushing disappointment."

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'Window shopping'
A man looks in an estate agent window

Rising house prices are in the headlines once again, with the Daily Telegraph finding room on its front page to record the biggest hike in London "since Margaret Thatcher was in power". The average first-time buyer in the capital is paying more than £350,000, it says, meaning those taking their first step on the housing ladder must typically fork out nine times their average salary.

The 26% increase has further fuelled fears of a property bubble, says the Times, although it points out that: "Excluding London... price growth looks fairly ordinary." This is displayed in a table in the Daily Express, which shows that average prices remain below their 2007 or 2008 peaks in all regions except the capital, south-east and east of England.

For the Daily Mirror, a £265,000 difference between average prices represents "the real north-south divide". It adds: "The statistics from Nationwide seem to confirm warnings that the south is becoming more prosperous at the expense of the rest of the country."

A case study in the Daily Mail shows how one family sold up after the value of their four-bedroom south-east London Georgian cottage rocketed from £190,000 to £910,000 in 16 years.

It all leaves the Daily Express's cartoon pondering the plight of a buyer who looks in an estate agent's window and comments to a friend: "I'm only window shopping. I can't afford a whole house."

Meanwhile, the Times quotes property analysts saying that "hard up twentysomethings are cramming into converted sitting rooms and cupboards in an attempt to save money on rent".

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