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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Blair backs foundation hospitals
Mr Blair also backed the PFI scheme
Plans to give top-rated NHS hospitals greater freedom from government control have been strongly backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In his keynote speech to the Labour Party conference in Blackpool, Mr Blair said the so-called foundation hospitals would put power in the hands of patients and NHS staff.

His comments follow recent attacks on the policy from unions and former health secretary Frank Dobson and reports that Chancellor Gordon Brown is opposed to the move.


We need to change the system and it means putting power in the hand of the patient

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Ministers are expected to announce next year which three-star NHS trusts will become foundation hospitals.

These trusts will have the freedom to opt-out of government guidelines and to set their own clinical and financial priorities. They may also be able to increase staff pay.

Firm backing

Mr Blair gave his firm backing to the policy.

"Why shouldn't our best hospitals be free to develop their services within the NHS as foundation hospitals," he told the conference.

"It will put power in the hands of professionals."

Mr Blair also pledged to press ahead with plans to use private money to pay for new hospitals across the country.

The private finance initiative has been roundly criticised by unions. On Monday, delegates at the party conference passed a vote called for the policy to be independently reviewed.

But Mr Blair made it clear that he was determined to press ahead with the scheme.

He said: "I don't care who builds them so long as they are built on cost."

But the prime minister said the NHS must provide patients with an individual service.

"We need to change the system and it means putting power in the hand of the patient," he said.

"Why shouldn't an NHS patient be able to book an appointment at their convenience, at the time they want, with the doctor they want."

The Conservative Party criticised Mr Blair's NHS reforms.

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "However much Tony Blair insists Labour's extra billions will solve the crisis in the NHS, patients and staff alike know that only radical and meaningful reform - not his sham reforms - can put the NHS right."

In his speech, Mr Blair drew attention to the global scourge of the AIDS epidemic and highlighted the key role Britain must play in the ongoing battle to bring it under control.

Lisa Power from Terrence Higgins Trust said: "Without a vaccine or cure for HIV, clear political leadership is our best weapon against this devastating virus. Tony Blair is right to point out Britain's responsibility to tackle it both here in the UK, and the rest of the world."

Nurse pay deal

Earlier Health Secretary Alan Milburn indicated that long-running talks on a new pay deal for nurses were close to completion.

Talks between the government and unions on new pay scales have been going on for more than three years.

Mr Milburn said negotiators were working through weekends to complete the discussions.

He told a fringe meeting at Labour's conference: "I think we are getting close to a deal and I hope we will get a deal that is good for nurses and good for patients."

Beverly Malone of the Royal College of Nursing said one in five nurses was planning to retire in the next five or 10 years.

"The government have reached their targets on recruitment, but the truth is that, even though they are coming in, they are not staying," she said.

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Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Why shouldn't our best hospitals be free to develop their services"

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01 Oct 02 | Politics
22 May 02 | Health
13 Sep 02 | Health
22 Apr 02 | Politics
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