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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 11:46 GMT
Unions attack private hospital deal
Bupa Redwood Hospital
The Bupa Redwood Hospital in Surrey is part of the deal
A private hospital is to act exclusively as an "express surgery centre", carrying out routine NHS operations in the drive to cut waiting times.

The announcement has provoked a storm of protest from health service unions.

The Bupa-owned Redwood Hospital, in Redhill in Surrey, will perform 5,000 routine operations such as hip and knee replacements each year.

Bupa will bill the NHS for the work, but no details of the cost of the contract to the taxpayer have yet been released.

Bupa Redwood Hospital, Redhill
Beds: 36
High dependency beds: 4
Consulting rooms: 6
Operating theatres: 2
The landmark scheme is due to start as early as April 2002, the Department of Health confirmed.

It will be the first of 20 diagnostic treatment centres promised by 2004 in the government's NHS Plan - although only eight will be fully operational by that date.

The government is hoping to drive down long waits in specialties such as orthopaedics.

The aim is a maximum of six months wait for an operation by 2005.

Union opposition

However, the move has enraged unions, which claim they have not been consulted.

While temporary measures to ease waiting lists are clearly right, it is not right to give long term contracts to private hospitals

John Monks, TUC general secretary
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "We are disappointed that Alan Milburn has decided to go down this route.

"We agree with the concept of diagnostic centres.

"Routine operations need to be carried out more quickly and waiting lists need to come down.

"But we disagree with simply pushing it out to the private sector," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Obviously we have got to get good value for money for the taxpayer and a good standard of care for the patients

Alan Milburn
TUC general secretary John Monks added: "While temporary measures to ease waiting lists are clearly right, it is not right to give long term contracts to private hospitals, either in the UK or abroad."

John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "It is clear that there are people in Downing Street and the Department of Health who care more for the well-being of private health companies than they do for the well-being of the people who elected them."

Bed shortage

Unison is holding a series of rallies around the country protesting at increased private involvement in the NHS.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn announced the deal
Health secretary Alan Milburn told the BBC that he was in "active negotiations" with Bupa.

"Obviously we have got to get good value for money for the taxpayer and a good standard of care for the patients."

An acute shortage of beds in the south east meant the NHS had to look to the private sector, Mr Milburn said.

But, he added, he hoped the new unit would be the first in a series of diagnostic centres, some private and some NHS, which will separate routine from emergency surgery, leading to fewer cancelled operations.

"We are moving away from a monolithic NHS controlled from the top down", Mr Milburn claimed, to a more pluralistic service, where "power is devolved to front line services and staff".

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "There is a virtuous circle here and rather than get into arguments about where the provision is coming from, the key issue is what practically can you do to increase capacity in the health service."

Operations free

Under the terms of the deal, which is still being finalised, there will be no charge to patients.

'Short termism'

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox said he welcomed a more pragmatic approach but he suggested the move was a sign of desperation.

Dr Fox told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Government, despite the problems they will have with their union paymasters, are now desperate to find ways to get waiting lists and waiting times down."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris called the move "short termism of the worst kind".

He argued using private hospitals meant more doctors and nurses would be employed in the private sector when they were needed in NHS hospitals.

Mike Stone, chief executive of the Patients Association, said he welcomed the initiative if it would cut waiting times.

"Patients dread their surgery being postponed, but because this centre will only carry out elective (planned) operations, they will not be cancelled when emergencies come in."

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Is this the future for NHS patients?"
Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"Nobody has said the private sector is a panacea for the health service"
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis
"There are better ways of reforming our health service"
Shadow health secretary Liam Fox
"An admission that things are going pretty badly in the NHS"
Should private companies run NHS hospitals?



1626 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

03 Sep 01 | ppp
NHS's private plans
04 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Health battle on the home front
02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Brown rules out income tax rise
30 Nov 01 | Health
'Chaotic NHS cannot improve'
28 Nov 01 | Business
How big could tax rises be?
28 Nov 01 | Health
Will money cure NHS ills?
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