Tue, Oct 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Heart trouble gives Blair a scare

REUTERS , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered his first known health scare as prime minister, requiring electro-cardiac treatment to regulate heart palpitations that came on top of an exhausting year over the Iraq war.

Although released and pronounced fit after nearly five hours' of treatment at a London hospital on Sunday, doctors ordered the 50-year-old Blair to rest up yesterday.

"There is no reason why this should reoccur," a spokesman for his Downing Street home and office said. "He will be back full-time at his desk on Tuesday morning."

Blair was at his Chequers country home, where he often spends weekends with his family, when he felt bad.

He was eventually taken to London's Hammersmith hospital, where doctors regulated Blair's heart beat via electric shock.

He then returned "well and in good spirits" to Downing Street, the spokesman said.

Blair has no history of heart problems and is known to be a vitamin-popping fitness enthusiast who plays tennis, works out regularly on a treadmill and even joined US President George W. Bush in a gym for a joint session on a recent trip.

News of his ill health shocked Britons, with politicians and commentators asking just how big a toll the Iraq saga has taken.

Blair has looked stressed and drawn through much of the year, first as he sold an unpopular war to skeptical Britons, then when critics rounded on him for his office's role in the outing of the name of scientist David Kelly, who committed suicide.

"He's doing quite the most stressful job I've every seen anyone do. There's nothing like taking a country to an unpopular war," said former newspaper editor Peter Stothard, who shadowed Blair during the Iraq saga and wrote a book on his experiences.

"This is certainly a shock for everyone, and a bit of a wake-up call for him."

With his popularity ratings in a slump due to the messy aftermath of the Iraq war, some speculated Blair would benefit from public sympathy over his heart problem.

There were calls for Blair to take a long break or ease his work-load.

But biographer John Rentoul said that was unlikely.

"Blair doesn't do delegation," he said, adding: "The guy's not been carried off yet! If what the doctors say is right, there's no reason why he can't just carry on as normal."

Medical experts said Blair's problem was worrying but relatively common and easily manageable.

"I should think it gave him a bit of a shock, but it isn't actually a very life-threatening condition," cardiologist Dr Mark Dancy, of London's Central Middlesex Hospital, told BBC TV. "It's nothing to do with heart attacks."

The Downing Street statement said the Hammersmith hospital considered Blair's "a relatively common condition."

Blair's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was to take his place yesterday to give a statement to parliament on the EU.

Blair took over the Labour Party when his predecessor, John Smith, died of a heart attack in 1994. He won the 1997 election to take office as Britain's youngest prime minister since 1812.

His biggest political enemy, Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, wished Blair well. "I very much hope that he makes a swift recovery and I send him and his family all best wishes at this difficult time," he said.

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