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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 October 2005, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
NHS private sector links attacked
Female surgeon
The private sector carries out operations for the NHS
Articles in two leading medical journals have criticised government use of the private sector to provide services and facilities for the NHS.

Two doctors warn in the British Medical Journal of NHS money going to big business instead of clinical services.

And an editorial in the Lancet calls for a halt to NHS "privatisation".

But the government denied the charges, and said using the private sector would give NHS patients speedier access, more choice, and improved service.1

By 2009 the independent sector will only account for about 1% of the overall NHS budget
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt

In an article in the BMJ, Robert Lane, president of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain, and Alex Paton, a retired consultant from Oxfordshire, said that when Labour came to power it denounced the private finance initiative (PFI) which sought NHS funding outside the public sector.

But by 2004 the private sector had spread to "virtually every organ of the health service", they added.

The doctors stressed they were not against all privatisation.

But they insisted: "To many people it is clear that the NHS is being taken over by big business and private healthcare teams, so that money that could go towards clinical care is diverted to corporations or their shareholders.

They said clinicians had to supply evidence for the actions they wanted to take but such inhibitions did not apply to ideas generated by "favourite government advisors".

"The result is a stream of untried schemes, based on ideology rather than evidence, that often have unforeseen consequences on different parts of the NHS," they said.

'Fast and loose'

And an editorial in the Lancet said the NHS had been turned into a "proliferating network of service providers and independent treatment centres, and hospitals built and financed by private money".

It added: "No drug would be licensed without good data about its safety and efficacy.

"Yet Britain's health system is freely turned upside-down without any reference to evidence or any plans to study the controlled effects of these reforms.

It said Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was "playing fast and loose with the public's trust".

But the government's record was defended by Jennifer Dixon, director of policy at the King's Fund, an independent health think-tank.

Writing in the BMJ, she said: "NHS organisations must implement the reforms already designed and manage the risks carefully. The supply of private providers must continue to grow."


Responding to the articles, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "There is no question of the NHS being privatised."

"We are buying 1.7 million operations for NHS patients delivered according to NHS principles and standards free at the point of need.

"By 2009 the independent sector will only account for about 1% of the overall NHS budget and about 10% of all elective operations provided to NHS patients.

"This is all about giving patients speedier access, more choice, and improved services."

She added: "The Department of Health is not considering dropping PFI.

"PFI is helping to deliver the biggest hospital building programme in the history of the NHS, replacing old and outmoded buildings with ones fit for the 21st Century."

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