Majority reject private finance in health service service rejected

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Doctors yesterday turned their backs on a scheme which allows private investors to pay for National Health Service capital projects such as hospital buildings, and launched themselves on a possible collision course with the Government.

Representatives of the British Medical Association voted by an overwhelming majority to oppose the whole principle of the Private Finance Initiative in health care.

The PFI has become a cornerstone of government health policy. Public capital funding in the NHS has been cut by almost 17 per cent on the basis of money being attracted from the private sector. Six major PFI projects costing pounds 16m have already been given the go-ahead. But doctors fear that the initiative will undermine the NHS and lead to "privatisation by the back door".

At the conference, Dr Sandy Macara, the BMA chairman, attacked the PFI, arguing that hospital trusts were being coerced into accepting private finance deals for short-term gain.

He told delegates: "They are being blackmailed into accepting the Private Finance Initiative for one reason and one reason only. That is that the Government is not prepared to recognise the reality of underfunding in the National Health Service.

"We live in the real world. We know the facts. We will not be cowed by politicians of whatever persuasion running scared or by their media sycophants ... we have to go on from here to decide how to deal with the sad reality of a desperate situation forced on us by the Government".

Dr John Marks, a council member from the BMA's Barnet and Finchley division in north London, said that not one PFI deal had yet been signed and sealed.

He said: "There is no place for the PFI in a publicly funded health service. The PFI is a continuation of the covert privatisation which started with eye tests, continued through dental care and care of the elderly and is now facing the core of the service."

Dr Noel Olsen, of Plymouth, wanted to know how much it would cost the NHS to "repay the mortgage" in 20 years time. "If it's just 1 per cent of revenue per year accumulated in 20 years time that's a hell of a percentage of our NHS," he said.

The BMA's ruling council will now have to turn the view of its members into policy.