Tory council seeks health care control

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The Independent Online
THE JEWEL in the crown of Tory local government - Wandsworth council - is proposing that it should take over the health service locally and become the purchasing authority for the NHS in its area.

The move from the right- wing council, outlined in a policy document, is remarkable for containing ideas being developed by Labour politicians and health service managers alarmed at the lack of accountability in the new quango- driven NHS.

At a meeting next Wednesday the council will be asked to approach Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, to consider the transfer of health-care purchasing.

The move has been prompted by proposals from the local health service authorities to effectively close Queen Mary's, Roehampton, as a district general hospital, reducing it to a glorified polyclinic treating out-patients.

Wandsworth strongly opposes that move, and Edward Lister, the council leader, said yesterday that a switch to council control of health service purchasing would restore local accountability to the NHS.

'At the moment we have a group of people on the local health authorities convening in smoke-filled rooms and coming up with a crazy plan.'

Wandsworth's own paper on the transfer plan notes that it reflects views proposed two years ago by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left- of-centre think-tank, while David Blunkett, Labour's health services spokesman, is also keen to explore the idea.

John Bowis, a health minister and a Wandsworth MP, remarkably appeared to support the idea last night, although he said any proposal would need careful study. However, a Department of Health spokesman said there were 'absolutely no plans' for such a move.

St Thomas's and Guy's hospitals are to survive under a 'single hospital on two sites' plan proposed by the hospitals' trust board yesterday.

The plan will still see 2,000 jobs go - including compulsory redundancy for some consultants - as the trust plans to achieve savings of pounds 50m to pounds 60m a year, or 20 per cent of its costs, over the next five years. The board argued last night that the same number of local patients would be treated, while overall services would be cut only by 10 per cent.