Health bosses 'agree NHS rationing is inevitable'

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Labour will claim today that the Government is determined to "end the NHS" following reports that top doctors and health officials held secret talks on a national initiative to ration health care. Opposition health spokesmen say doctors and officials have taken the first steps towards establishing a national framework for rationing National Health Service treatments.

A day-long conference in September was addressed by Ron Zimmern, director of public health for Cambridge and Huntingdon health commission - the authority which took the decision to deny treatment to Child B, the 11- year-old leukaemia sufferer named as Jaymee Bowen.

The conference was initiated by the NHS Executive and held jointly by the executive, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association. The fact that the conference took place is perceived as an indication that senior NHS officials are now coming round to the idea that there may be a case for national, as well as local, guidelines on rationing.

According to a note on the conference, the broadcaster Nick Ross, who was brought in to chair the event, says: "There was complete agreement that rationing is inevitable."

He says: "Everyone agreed there should be a framework and that there must be three levels of decision-making: national, local and individual."

However, he warns that the implications are "explosive" and doubts politicians' willingness to take hard decisions.

Labour's health spokeswoman, Harriet Harman, said: "This is further evidence of the Government's drive to privatise the NHS. The Government wants to cut back treatments in the NHS and force people to go private.

"This is not rationing, it's privatisation. Private health care is more expensive and available only to those who can pay rather than those who need the treatment.

"The NHS has no future with an increasingly right-wing Government. The question will not be 'do you need treatment, can you benefit from treatment?' but instead 'can you pay for treatment?' "