Right of Reply Barry Hassell

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The Independent Culture
The chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Association replies to a leading article advocating more private provision of medical care in the NHS

HIGH-PROFILE surveys have shown that the population is increasingly accepting of the fact that the NHS cannot do everything for everybody all of the time. So not only is this a fortuitous time for politicians to take up some of the arguments advanced by your leading article, but with the arrival of winter, the consequences of not doing so will be obvious in the coming months.

The perennial winter beds crisis is the most graphic example of a short- term supply problem that could be relieved if the NHS were to embrace the resources of the independent health sector. In past years, politics has got in the way of reaching a pragmatic solution. Now we are hoping that the Government will prove a real commitment to a third way by announcing a programme of modernisation for regulating our sector in tomorrow's Queen's Speech.

It's not often that the private sector argues for regulation, as we have been doing for 10 years; but health practitioners understand that in order for real co-operation to develop between us and the NHS, all hospitals and long-term care homes and services have to be accredited to equivalent and transparent standards. Obviously there is a business incentive for private providers to be seen to be attaining best practice, but the independent sector is about more than the profit motive. Many of our members are charitable and mutually owned institutions that provide a variety of models for the development of health care in this country.

We were disappointed that Frank Dobson decided against bringing us within the auspices of the new institutions he established to cover the NHS, but with his successor Alan Milburn a self-declared enemy of the forces of conservatism, we look forward to a positive and pragmatic alternative.