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Watchdogs fear NHS closures

(First Edition)

ONE IN TEN Community Health Councils reported yesterday that their local NHS hospital or unit, or departments within them, have closed since the internal market started in 1991, writes Nicholas Timmins.

And one in five of the patients' watchdogs believes that departments - or their entire local hospital or unit - faces a prospect of closure because they have failed to win contracts under the new NHS.

The survey, conducted by the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales, showed that half reported that their largest local hospital imposed cuts or overspent last year. More than 40 per cent said that wards or departments closed temporarily for lack of cash.

The NHS internal market, however, brought benefits to patients, according to the survey - to which one in three CHCs replied. Almost four out of ten CHCs said waiting times had improved, with only 11 per cent saying they had got worse. Contrary to predictions, there was little sign that patients were having to travel further for treatment. 'If anything the reverse is the case', the association said.