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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Dobson slams NHS reform plans
Mr Dobson was health secretary from 1997 to 2000
Former health secretary Frank Dobson has hit out at government plans to modernise the NHS.

The Labour backbencher has suggested that proposals to give top-rated hospitals more freedom will create a two-tier health service.

Mr Dobson, who quit the Cabinet to run for London mayor in 2000, accused the government of trying to seize "Tory territory".


It will create a two-tier NHS and widen the gap between the best performing hospitals and the rest

Frank Dobson MP
His comments, made in a speech to Labour Party members in Bristol, are the most stinging yet against his successor Alan Milburn.

Mr Milburn announced plans earlier this year to give the top-rated NHS hospitals to opt-out of government policies and to set their own financial and clinical priorities.

Only those trusts which have achieved three stars in Department of Health league tables can apply to become what are called foundation hospitals.

The first of these are expected to come on stream next year.

Two-tier service

But Mr Dobson has hit out at the policy. He told the Bristol meeting on Thursday evening the move was "a step backwards" and would not benefit patients.

"Practically everyone involved in the NHS, apart from the government, fears it will create a two-tier NHS and widen the gap between the best performing hospitals and the rest," he said.

"The hospitals most in need of improvements will be worse off. The better hospitals would get better still. Inequality will grow."

Mr Dobson said the policies smacked of "third way theorising" in a critical reference to Prime Minister Tony Blair's political philosophy.

He added: "The object apparently is to seize the Tory territory."

Policy re-think urged

Mr Dobson urged the government to abandon its plans to create foundation hospitals.

"I hope the government will ignore the siren voices of the Tories and the think tanks and listen to the people who actually to the work in the NHS.

"Nobody wants to improve the NHS more than they do and they know in their bones that foundation hospitals may be a reform but won't be an improvement."

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Mr Dobson defended his speech.

"The Tories introduced a system of competition - hospital against hospital - in the health service," he said.

"It was bad for the health service. It was politically disastrous for them and I believe that [the foundation hospital policy] is doing the self-same thing."

Ministers say foundation status will reward those trusts that are performing well and will act as an incentive to those in need of improvement.

They also believe it will enable hospitals to be more responsive to the needs of their local communities.

See also:

22 May 02 | Health
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