Beckett vows to `renationalise' NHS trusts

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Margaret Beckett yesterday clashed with National Health Service managers and trust hospital chairmen over Labour's health service plans as she promised to "renationalise" NHS trusts and restore national pay bargaining.

Labour's health spokeswoman faced a hostile reception at the NHS Trust Federation annual conference in Nottingham as she insisted that government policy was leading to the privatisation of the NHS and pledged to replace competition with co-operation.

Sidney Jackson, chairman of the Bournemouth NHS Trust, was applauded enthusiastically when he "pleaded" with Mrs Beckett not to put "self- serving" local councillors on NHS trust boards. Mrs Beckett replied that "I'm going to disappoint you."

Rodney Walker, chairman of the federation, told her that no one in the hall believed that they were "part of an insidious process" towards privatisation.

"We all believe we are playing our part inside the NHS," he said, after Mrs Beckett insisted that the present structures were "destroying the NHS and are incompatible with its continued existence."

Mrs Beckett also underlined Labour's hostility to most of the Government's private finance initiative, saying allowing the private sector to finance, build and run hospitals was "a slippery slope towards privatisation."

"In government we certainly wouldn't allow it," she said.

After her exchanges in the hall, Mrs Beckett said it would be dishonest to pretend that nothing would change in the NHS if Labour took power. "I did not seek to offend, I sought to tell them the truth."

She said trusts would retain day-to-day management of their affairs but the composition of their boards would change and they would no longer control their own assets.

Her vigorous opposition to private finance in the NHS came after Gordon Greenshields, a former director of finance on the NHS executive, had warned that the policy was in danger of foundering. The private sector, he said, was very close to walking away from the NHS and the Government's flagship initiative was "at a major crossroads".

Mr Greenshields said major construction companies had lost more than pounds 1bn of building because of delays the initiative has introduced in capital spending decisions and were spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on each scheme they had to work up to compete with other bidders.

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