Private sector bids to run two new hospitals

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE health groups - including some owned overseas - will bid to build and run two hospitals for the National Health Service in England as heart surgeons in Wales yesterday opposed the prospect of the private sector providing a multi-million-pound NHS cardiac unit in Swansea.

Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Health Commission will invite tenders this autumn for a day and community hospital of around 75 beds in Havant, while in Devon the Plymouth and Torbay health authority has invited tenders for a 12-bed community unit to replace Dawlish Hospital.

The moves are part of the Government's drive to involve the private sector in providing mainstream clinical services for the NHS.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'This is yet more evidence that the Government is deadly serious about allowing the private sector to profit from providing NHS services. Whatever Virginia Bottomley says, the NHS is being sold off by this government bit by bit.'

Chris West, chief executive of the Portsmouth health commission, said approaching 30 expressions of interest in the new Havant hospital had already been received - most from the private sector and some from foreign- backed health care companies.

The commission, which buys health care for the 126,000 people who will be served by the new hospital, was 'indifferent' to the question of whether the service was provided by the public or private sector. 'We are interested only in high-quality services which meet local needs and provide value for money,' Mr West said.

NHS trusts interested in the new unit include the local Portsmouth Community Trust and London teaching hospitals - although to raise the finance, trusts might have to go into partnership with the private sector. 'If I was the chief executive of a London teaching hospital in a contracting market, I could see lots of advantages in providing services in Havant,' Mr West said. Staff could be relocated, and income earned to help keep the London hospital in business.

Tenders for the Havant hospital will go out around the time John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, decides whether a 600-operation-a-year cardiac unit at Swansea's Morriston Hospital should be built and run by the private sector.

Surgeons from the Welsh Cardiac Group are seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Redwood to urge him to accept the bid from the Morriston Trust itself - the only pure NHS bid among the four under consideration. Group chairman Dr Michael Stephens, director of cardiology at the University of Wales Hospital, said the group had 'grave misgivings' about the impact on training and research if the private sector ran the unit. 'The treatment of heart disease is complex and lifelong and the private sector is not geared up to think in that way.'