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EDITIONS
Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 16:07 GMT
Freedom 'for all NHS hospitals'
Addenbrooke's Hospital Cambridge
Addenbrookes: Tipped for foundation status
Every NHS hospital will eventually be able to opt-out of government control.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn told MPs there would be "no cap" on the number of foundation trusts.

Critics have warned the policy could create a two-tier health service if it was restricted to just a few trusts.


I cannot see how the present proposals will not lead to a two-tier health service

Frank Dobson MP
That view was echoed by former health secretary Frank Dobson in the Commons who launched a scathing attack on the proposals.

But Mr Milburn said plans to allow top-rated trusts to apply for foundation status this year was just the first phase.

Under the government's plans, foundation hospitals will be able to set their own clinical and financial priorities for the first time without interference from Whitehall.

They will be modelled on similar hospitals in Denmark, Spain and Sweden and will be run on a not-for-profit basis.

Patient involvement

Mr Milburn told MPs that patients would have a key role in deciding the direction of foundation trusts.

They will be able to stand for election to new stakeholder councils, which will monitor the day-to-day running of individual trusts.

The first foundation trusts are expected to come on stream later this year. Initially, only trusts which received three stars in government ratings will be eligible.

But Mr Milburn said: "As more hospitals improve, more will become foundation trusts.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
Mr Milburn wants to free trusts from his control
"There will be no arbitrary cap on the number of foundation hospitals. The charge that this will create a two tier health service is simply not true."

Mr Milburn added: "Foundation hospitals will be owned and controlled by local communities. State ownership will be replaced with a modern form of community ownership."

Prospectus

The health secretary told MPs that a 'prospectus' outlining how the foundation trusts will operate will be published shortly.

He added that legislation to establish these hospitals will also include "a lock" to prevent the trusts from being privatised.

Mr Milburn appeared to rule out earlier speculation that foundation trusts will be able to set their own pay and conditions for staff.

He said they would be able to use their own discretion and to be flexible but within the national pay structures.

Tory support

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox backed the foundation hospitals policy.

He said it was one Labour policy an "incoming Conservative government would be very comfortable with".

But he warned that all hospitals must be allowed to achieve foundation status to prevent a two-tier system developing.

But former health secretary Frank Dobson criticised the government's plans.

"I cannot see how the present proposals will not lead to a two-tier health service," he said.

He accused the government of following a "Tory consensus" on the NHS.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said all hospitals should be able to become foundation trusts.

"Why enforce this status on a select group of hospitals? Why not allow local communities, whatever their star status, to choose to be public benefit organisation."

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