Plans to convert ward for fee-payers attacked

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PLANS by a new London hospital to convert a 28-bed National Health Service ward into a 15-bed private unit were condemned as 'scandalous' by David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, yesterday.

The Chelsea and Westminster hospital - which cost the NHS pounds 100m more than originally budgeted - wants the private ward to generate income from private patients. A surplus of pounds 350,000 a year would be made on the running costs but the capital costs of converting the ward would come from the NHS. The overspend was criticised last year by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The hospital, which opened in 1993 and became a trust this month, has about 130 beds which remain empty, despite long waiting lists, although most of them are due to be commissioned in the next few months.

Criticising the trust's plans, Mr Blunkett said: 'Given that the 28 beds cost almost pounds 8.5m, that there are 350,000 Londoners waiting for treatment and that there was a jump of over 13 per cent in the number of people waiting for more than one year in London in the last quarter alone, the loss of a further 28 beds is nothing short of scandalous'. The proposals, revealed in a consultation paper, will be discussed by Kensington and Chelsea district health authority later this month. They are opposed by local community health watchdogs and Hammersmith and Fulham council.

In a letter to North West Thames Regional Health Authority, Riverside Community Health Council estimates that each bed in the hospital cost the NHS pounds 300,000. And because the project was overspent by pounds 100m, about 300 other health service projects in the region were postponed or cancelled.

The community health council wrote: 'In a recent survey of GPs the majority reported to us difficulty in admitting NHS patients to certain specialities - orthopaedics, ophthalmology, dermatology and ear nose and throat. Our conclusion must therefore be to oppose the change of use of NHS accommodation to private facilities, when NHS funding will in effect be subsidising these beds, and when NHS patients continue to remain on long waiting lists for certain treatments.'