Foundation hospitals are 'dagger through NHS'  

TUC Conference: As delegates attack hospital reform, Blair faces aftermath of spin row over tough speech at dinner
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Union leaders condemned Tony Blair's proposals for foundation hospitals yesterday, warning that they would lead to creeping privatisation and put a "dagger through the NHS".

The TUC pledged to campaign against foundation trusts, which it said would lead to a "two-tier NHS where elitism and excellence for the few replaced universal provision and higher costs".

Union leaders attacked the policy as they gave a lukewarm response to the Government's new public-services forum, which is intended to open dialogue between the unions and Number 10 over reform.

Delegates to the TUC conference in Brighton criticised ministers for failing to consult unions over the NHS reforms. They warned that freeing high-performing hospital trusts from government control would damage neighbouring hospitals and lead to a growing commercial market in health care.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public services union Unison, said: "Call them what they are; private hospitals, because that's what they will become.

"NHS workers have gone through 17 reorganisations in as many years, but not one as ill-thought out as the Bill now before Parliament. Transforming successful hospitals into foundation hospitals is a risky experiment, creating at best a two-tier health service and at worst a staging post to privatisation."

He warned Mr Blair: "It isn't too late to listen, it's not too late to make all that investment really bite. Don't let us look back in five years and wonder where it all went wrong. You'll never be forgiven."

Bill Morris, the outgoing general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, added: "This movement did not march and campaign for the biggest increase in public spending to improve the NHS just to hand it over to the private sector. "After six decades of universal care and equality of access, a Labour government is now legislating for inequality in health care. Health care should depend on needs and not the size of your wallet, but what we will now have is a two-tier NHS ... Foundation hospitals are not jut a step to privatisation, they will be a dagger to the NHS."

Dave Anderson, an official from Unison, said there was "massive opposition" to foundation hospitals in the labour movement. "We are opposed to reform that is not thought through and is destined to lead us back to the days of competition within our health service.

"We aren't the enemy within. We are the people who kept the health service alive during 20 years of Tory rule, and we are the people who kept the Labour Party alive throughout the same period."

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, criticised the failure to consult unions on foundation hospitals. But he told delegates: "Ministers are beginning to learn that they can't improve public services without the enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of public-service workers."

He defended the public- services forum. "The forum does not give the TUC a veto. It doesn't mean we are running the country. It means public- service unions are able to have a sensible conversation about strategic issues.It is no more than what a good private- sector employer would do to develop a high-trust relationship with recognised unions."