Labour split over NHS

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Divisions between Scottish Labour MPs and party strategists emerged yesterday when Jim Devine, chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, insisted that under Labour, NHS hospitals north of the border would return to full public control, writes John Arlidge.

He said that a Labour government would abolish all NHS trust hospitals. Control would revert to Scotland's 15 health boards, whose members would be newly elected.

So far, strategists at the Labour Party's Walworth Road headquarters say only that they will "democratise" health boards and "remove hospital trust status". Mr Devine was confident Labour officials in England and Wales would follow the lead set by the Scottish party, but Dr Brian Potter, secretary of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said: "The last thing the health service in Scotland needs is more ideologically- driven change."

Mr Devine said yesterday that he was confident Labour officials in England and Wales would follow the lead set by the Scottish party. "The party is totally opposed to the the quangoisation of public services which the Tories have introduced. We intend to replace Tory-dominated health quangos with bodies which will give local people a direct say in how their health service is run. If we've got our act together early, I am sure then Walworth Road will be following up behind us."

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The policy of abolishing NHS Trusts and holding direct elections to health boards has been approved by the executive of the Scottish Labour Party and it is almost certain to be approved by the Scottish Labour Party conference in Inverness next month. Labour nationally will publish its health policy proposals following a meeting of its National Policy Forum in June. Mr Devine denied yesterday that his comments were a warning to Tony Blair not to soften Labour commitment to undoing the Tories' NHS reforms.

His comments were condemned by Dr Brian Potter, secretary of the British Medical Association in Scotland. "The last thing that the health service in Scotland needs is more ideolgically-driven change," he said.

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