Health Service Privatisation: Daughters of the Cross in Cornish cash row

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The Independent Online
NUNS who run a private hospital service were at the centre of a row yesterday between Labour and Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, over the alleged privatisation of the NHS.

The Daughters of the Cross run one of the private hospitals the NHS is increasingly using to tackle waiting lists for its patients. The holy order was largely responsible for the pounds 7.1m that Cornwall district health authority allocated to the private sector in 1992-93, nearly pounds 2m more than the previous year. The link between the NHS and the nuns has existed in Cornwall since 1948 when the NHS was created.

Figures supplied to Dawn Primarolo, a Labour health spokesman, show sharp increases in NHS spending on the private sector between 1991 and 1993: Newcastle's spending on private health soared from pounds 555,268 to pounds 3.3m; Lewisham up from pounds 2.1m to pounds 6.8m, Bloomsbury from pounds 4m to pounds 9.4m and South East Kent from pounds 247,239 to pounds 2.8m.

Total NHS spending on the private sector rose from pounds 225m in 1991-92 to pounds 268m in 1992-93. One independent study showed that, over the past decade, the amount spent on the NHS in the private sector has risen by 18 per cent.

Ms Primarolo said: 'The figures show that the virtual monopoly of the NHS as the provider of comprehensive and universal health free at the point of delivery has been steadily eroded. It is patients that are the losers from the increasing privatisation of the NHS; patient care not profit has been and always should remain its first priority. The NHS must keep as its focus quality of care not quantity of profit.'

Cornwall health authority officials strongly defended its use of the holy order, which runs the private St Michael's hospital. It treats many Cornish NHS patients for knee and hip replacements. Jeff James, the director of acute services for Cornwall DHA, said: 'One of its roles is as a source of elective surgery unimpeded by fluctuations with emergency admissions. The continuing supply of elective care has made a major contribution to reducing waiting lists.'

The purchase of care from the nuns made Cornwall one of the big purchasers of private care, exceeding Brighton ( pounds 660,871), Eastbourne ( pounds 3.2m) and West Birmingham ( pounds 2.3m).