Private hospital could run new NHS heart unit: Welsh trust invites tenders for pounds 2m centre

PRIVATE hospital groups have been invited to bid to provide an open-heart surgery and cardiology service at a health service trust. It would be the most dramatic private provision so far of an NHS clinical service.

Morriston Hospital in Swansea has put out to tender plans to provide Wales with its second major cardiac centre, providing 600 open-heart operations a year and a complete cardiology service for hundreds of out-patients a year.

Bidders are being invited to build, equip and run the unit, an operation likely to involve pounds 2m to pounds 3m in capital and a multi-million pound turnover. Cleaning, catering and laundry have been put out to private tender in the NHS for years and hospitals have started to put radiology and pathology to tender with the private sector winning some contracts. But direct private sector provision of core clinical services has been limited to a few satellite kidney dialysis units.

Tony Richards, director of operations at Morriston Hospital, said: 'This is easily the biggest contract for clinical services so far.'

The hospital is preparing a bid for the service and other NHS trusts and NHS cardiac teams could bid. The precise arrangements of how the new unit would fit in with the trust had not been laid down to provide 'the maximum flexibility' for those tendering. The NHS trust would employ the doctors in the unit, 'unless a bidder can convince us that there are significant quality and other advantages in following some other route'.

Although the idea of putting the service out to tender pre-dates the arrival of John Redwood as Secretary of State for Wales, health officials in Wales say there had been a renewed vigour behind it since his arrival and the announcement in the Budget that the Government wants more private sector finance involved in the health service.

Bids for the cardiac service are being invited as Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, said one-stop health clinics providing both GP services and out-patient surgery should be set up using private capital.

Consideration of the use of private finance when setting up such projects should be 'the rule rather than the exception' she told a Bow Group conference. Private finance needed to move beyond 'incinerators and car parks' into the key clinical areas.