Tories accused on NHS privatisation

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The Independent Online

Health Services Correspondent

Labour has demanded that Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, clarify plans to privatise parts of the NHS following revelations in the Independent yesterday that trusts are being forced to accept tenders from private companies to finance, build and run hospital services.

Margaret Beckett, Shadow Health Secretary, has written to Mrs Bottomley seeking an explanation of new Department of Health guidance telling trusts they must accept private tenders not just for capital projects but also for running services.

The guidance explains that the Treasury-inspired Private Finance Initiative has been extended from capital projects to services. The Independent disclosed that construction companies including McAlpines, Tarmac and Laings are joining forces with private health care firms and financiers to build, finance and run hospital services.

Mrs Beckett has also discovered that trusts have invited private health companies to tender for 30 contracts to provide clinical services such as anaesthetics, occupational therapy and haematology since the NHS reforms were introduced in 1991. Trusts are "market testing" another 20 clinical and support services in 1994/95 according to a parliamentary answer. The services include chiropody, infection control, ophthalmology, speech therapy and radiology.

Mrs Beckett wrote to Mrs Bottomley: "I am writing regarding the article in the Independent to seek urgent clarification of your privatisation plans for the NHS. The programme identified in the article utterly contradicts the Prime Minister's statement at last year's Conservative Party conference that he would not privatise the NHS `while I live and breathe'.''

Leading article, page 18