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Tony Blair eases workload after heart scare
( 2003-10-20 16:36) (Agencies)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair heeded doctor's orders to ease his workload on Monday after requiring electric shocks to regulate heart palpitations in the first health scare of his premiership.

The 50-year-old Blair, who has had the toughest year of his six-year rule with the Iraq war and its difficult aftermath, was sending his Foreign Minister Jack Straw in his place to report on a European Union meeting to parliament.

He was due to hold some low-key meetings at his Downing Street office and residence during Monday, but would not be back at his desk full-time until Tuesday, Blair's spokesmen said.

"There is no reason why this should reoccur," one spokesman said of the irregular heart beat Blair suffered on Sunday.

Blair was at his Checkrs country home when he felt dizzy and had chest pains.

He was taken to London's Hammersmith hospital, where doctors regulated Blair's heart beat via electric shock in nearly five hours' of treatment. 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 President 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 2003, 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 ever 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, some speculated Blair would benefit from public sympathy over his heart problem.

There were calls for him 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.

"As far as I understand he had sudden onset of rapid heart beat. There are several conditions which led to this but rarely are they things to be concerned about," said Tony Handrey, a British consultant cardiologist.

"There is no evidence it is a stress-related condition... It usually just occurs out of the blue."

Downing Street said the Hammersmith hospital where Blair was treated viewed his as "a relatively common condition."

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.

If Blair were incapacitated, his Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott would temporarily take over while the ruling Labour Party elected a new leader.

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