Fair-pay deal for NHS urged Beckett's NHS pledges cheered

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Political Correspondent

Private-sector companies will take no part in running National Health Service hospitals under a Labour government, delegates pledged yesterday.

But there was an impassioned appeal for a fair-pay deal for "ground down" NHS workers from Rodney Bickerstaffe, associate general secretary of Unison, the health service union.

"Tony, I heard you loud and clear yesterday when you said that a Labour government, like all governments, will have to say no as well as yes on public-sector pay," Mr Bickerstaffe said during yesterday's health debate.

"But the NHS staff are the most shining and polished face of the jewel in the crown [of the welfare state]. We cannot keep grinding them down. When you come into your kingdom remember them and say yes."

The plea came as Margaret Beckett, health spokeswoman, received the fifth standing ovation of the conference after pledging that Labour would stop the "privatisation" of the health service that had been put in train by the Tories.

There were cheers when Mrs Beckett promised that Labour would remove gagging clauses from NHS staff contracts, end mixed-sex wards, fight to restore NHS dentistry, strengthen the rights of carers, ban tobacco advertising and halt market testing of 48 clinical services.

Citing last month's issue of the Lancet medical journal, which condemned the private finance initiative as the back door to privatisation, Mrs Beckett said: "The cat's out of the bag. The Tories are privatising the health service. Privatisation is not just about privatising services but also about driving more and more people into the private sector of health care.

"We are now being asked to accept a safety-net public services for emergencies and for the poor and expensive private health insurance for the great majority ... I'm telling you Labour won't accept this future."

The motion passed commits the party to abolishing compulsory competitive tendering, ensuring private companies take no part in running hospitals, and agreeing national pay arrangements. The NHS internal market and GP fundholding would be replaced by a co-operative commissioning framework.