Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Clampdown on private hospitals
Private hospitals are to be more closely regulated
A tough regulatory regime is to be introduced for Britain's 300 private hospitals in the wake of a series of scandals.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson told MPs on Thursday that current rules which treated private hospitals as nursing homes were "wholly inadequate".
Mr Dobson highlighted the case of a gynaecologist - who was banned from operating in the NHS after injuring many women patients, but continued to work at a private hospital - as demonstrating the need for change.
One woman had her ovaries removed without her consent and another suffered a ruptured bladder.
Mr Dobson set up a public inquiry into the case last month.
"There have been some serious shortcomings," Mr Dobson told the Health Select Committee.
"The present regulatory arrangements are clearly quite unsatisfactory.
"They were originally drawn up at a time when there were not very many private sector hospitals and those that there were did not do anything very complex.
"It is no longer satisfactory for them to be treated for regulatory purposes as nursing homes.
"What is required of a nursing home is not what is required of a place providing acute services."
Mr Dobson said current powers gave regulators only the choice between "a nuclear weapon and a feather duster" - they could make requests to change practices, or in the most serious cases close a hospital down, but had no powers in between.
He said he envisaged a "distinct separate regulatory body for private hospitals", which would be paid for largely by the private sector.
Media reports have suggested that Mr Dobson is considering legislation to establish an independent body to monitor private hospitals.
He is also said to be proposing to make hospitals publish performance league tables and their annual audits in the same way NHS hospitals do.