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'PFI will cost jobs and beds'
Richard Warry
News Online's Richard Warry reports from the BMA conference
Doctors have called for an end to the system whereby private sector cash is used to fund new hospitals and health centres.

Representatives at the British Medical Association annual conference in Cardiff rejected a warning from Sir Alexander Macara, chair of council, that at present there was no alternative available.

Sir Alexander said: "This country cannot afford the Private Finance Initiative. It is pernicious nonsense - but we have a problem. At present, it is the only option available for colleagues who are absolutely desperate to have facilities for their patients.

Blackmail

"Therefore, we are being blackmailed into accepting it. But to abandon it just like that could be to deny the only way to get the resouces we desperately need."

Sir Alexander Macara
Sir Alexander Macara says PFI is 'a pernicious nonsense'
However, other speakers warned that private investors wanted a return on their money today, a return which the NHS could not afford.

Money to pay debts had to be found from revenue budgets designed for patient care and staff salaries and this would inevitably lead to cuts in services.

Dr Alison Pollock from south London said PFI doubled the cost of building schemes. The Norfolk and Norwich hospital costs had soared from 90m to 200m. She said the continuation of the scheme would lead to a cut in acute beds of 30-50%, and that the first 11 schemes pencilled in stood to cut 3,700 beds from the NHS.

In addition, 25% of NHS jobs would go under PFI, mostly doctors and nurses.

"Labour must be committed to the NHS. It must be owned not by American corporations, but by the public," she said.

'Absolute disgrace'

Dr Geoffrey Lewis from Leicestershire, proposing the abandonment of the scheme, said alternative methods of funding should be found.

He suggested the sale of NHS property bonds to the public.

Dr Peter Hawker, deputy chairman of the BMA consultants' committee, said PFI was "an absolute disgrace" which distorted planning priorities and forced people to rush through schemes simply to secure private finance.

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