Reid ready to close NHS hospitals that prove unpopular

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Some local hospitals will be forced to close if patients exercise new powers to choose where they are treated, John Reid, the Health Secretary, said yesterday.

Some local hospitals will be forced to close if patients exercise new powers to choose where they are treated, John Reid, the Health Secretary, said yesterday.

Mr Reid said that he was prepared to take the potentially unpopular decision of closing NHS hospitals if they failed to attract enough people for routine operations.

From December of this year, patients needing non-emergency surgery will be given the choice of five healthcare providers, including their local hospital, independently run mobile treatment centres or private sector hospitals where tariffs for operations have been agreed with the health service.

The patient-choice initiative is a cornerstone of government policy and by 2008 is expected to be extended to the point where patients will be able to choose to go anywhere in the country for routine surgery.

Funding for treatment will "follow the patient", meaning that if patients opt for surgery somewhere else, their local hospital will lose money and could eventually be forced to close.

Mr Reid said the policy was the most radical reform of the NHS in 60 years and would transfer power "from the provider to the patient".

Asked if ministers would be prepared to shut down NHS hospitals if they failed to attract patients, Mr Reid said: "This politician is." He added: "I am not going to force people to take a third-rate service.

"Patients will get the choice because, for 60 years, the only choice they have had is to like it or lump it. The aim is to increase diversity and choice."

But doctors and local NHS trusts are concerned they are coming under undue pressure to refer patients to the independent treatment centres (ITCs).

To offer the extended choice of health care, the Government has guaranteed ITCs a certain volume of patients - and therefore money - for their first five years by "block-booking" capacity which NHS trusts will pay for.

However, that means trusts in some areas must either refer patients to an ITC, or treat them in the local hospital, which, in effect, means they are paying twice for one operation.

James Johnson, the chairman of the British Medical Association, said: "In a market economy such as we have now in the NHS, it is inevitable there will be winners and losers. If this forces some hospitals to close, health service capacity will decrease.

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