Backbench anger at NHS deal with the private sector

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

The government angered some Labour MPs yesterday by signing an agreement with the private health industry under which the National Health Service will send more patients for treatment in the private sector.

The government angered some Labour MPs yesterday by signing an agreement with the private health industry under which the National Health Service will send more patients for treatment in the private sector.

Ministers denied that their concordat with the Independent Health Care Association would lead to the backdoor privatisation of the NHS. Ironically, they had levelled the same charge at the Tories on Monday after the Shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo, suggested that middle-class people should relieve pressure on the NHS by paying for private treatment.

Although private treatment will remain free and on the basis of clinical need for NHS patients, yesterday's agreement marks a watershed for the Labour Party. Frank Dobson, the former Health Secretary, strongly opposed closer links with the private sector, but the idea has been backed by his successor, Alan Milburn, and by Tony Blair.

However, NHS managers warned that spending taxpayers' money in the independent sector could add to the staff shortages in the NHS because more doctors and nurses would be poached.

David Hinchliffe, Labour chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: "It is very wrong of the Government to get into bed with the private sector which has, over 50 years of the NHS, constantly attempted to undermine the concept of state health care. To me, giving comfort at a time when it is known that the private sector is struggling is not something that I would expect a Labour government to do."

Although some health authorities already have local agreements for using the private sector, the concordat puts those informal deals on a nationally agreed footing for critical care, non-urgent operations and intermediate care for recuperating patients who are not ready to return home.

The blueprint said the private sector would not only relieve pressure on the NHS during its regular winter crises but "on a more proactive longer-term basis where this offers demonstrable value for money and high standards for patients".

Mr Milburn insisted there was "a world of difference" between his plans to use spare capacity in the independent sector and the Tories' plans to encourage people to go private.

He said the occupancy rate of beds in the private sector was 50 per cent, compared with 80 per cent in NHS hospitals. "Frankly, if there are private-sector hospital operating theatres that are standing idle or hospital beds which aren't being used, it seems sensible to take advantage of them for the benefit of NHS patients," he said.

"The patient will remain an NHS patient, the doctors will be NHS doctors, by and large the nurses will be NHS nurses and, of course, most importantly of all, the care will remain free."

William Hague will today announce controversial plans for charities, voluntary and religious groups to take over parts of the welfare state. In a keynote speech to Britain's faith communities, the Tory leader will say: "I want to denationalise compassion where the state is failing to deliver results."

Mr Hague will promise to "roll back the frontiers of the state" so that minority faith-based groups can flourish and play a "stronger leadership role". He will praise the religious leaders fighting to keep Section 28, the clause restricting the intentional promotion of homosexuality in education.

Comments