A key strand of Conservative Party health policy for the next election was comprehensively rejected by Britain's nurses yesterday.
In a vote, more than 95 per cent of delegates at the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference opposed Tory proposals for "patient passports" which would allow people to access private treatment on the NHS.
The conference was addressed by the shadow Health Secretary, Tim Yeo, who faced fierce criticism from nurses bitter about the Tories' handling of the NHS when they were in power.
The rejection of patient passports will come as a blow to Conservatives who had hoped that the policy would prove a vote-winner in the general election. Under the proposals, patients would be able to choose where they wanted to have surgery or treatment on the basis of waiting times at different hospitals, success rates or performance ratings for NHS trusts. People who opted for private treatment would be given 60 per cent of the NHS tariff towards their bill in the independent sector. The Conservatives claim the passports would extend patient choice and free up waiting lists.
Andrew McGovern, of the RCN, said: "The NHS must stay true to its founding principle of fairness for all. The patient's passport ... is not really a passport at all - it is an exit visa from the NHS for everyone with the ability to pay."
Speaking after the vote on patient passports, Mr Yeo admitted: "We have clearly a bit more persuading to do."