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banner Monday, 18 February, 2002, 10:41 GMT
Going private
For decades there has been a stand-off between the NHS and the private sector providers of healthcare. This has to end.

Increasing the links between the private sector and the NHS is one of the most controversial reforms put forward by the government.

Ministers see "spare capacity" at private hospitals as a way of forcing down waiting lists for common procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

Government target: There will be a national framework for partnership between the private and voluntary sector and the NHS. It will include a set of national guidelines to help primary care groups and trusts when they commission services.

This "concordat" between the government and the Independent Healthcare Association was signed in November 2000.

In principle, it allows NHS doctors and nurses to use private hospitals as a venue for operations.

In 2001, the government signed a deal with Bupa to essentially lease out a number of its private hospitals exclusively for NHS work.

It has also bought a London private heart hospital for use by NHS patients.

It is even striking deals with foreign private facilties to provide operations for those facing the longest waits in the UK.

In January 2002, a group of patients went to Lille in France for knee surgery.

These moves are important, it says, to help it achieve its promises on waiting times - and to offer some patients a choice of where they have their operations.

However, the idea of closer links with the private sector has drawn controversy even from inside the Labour party, who see it as diluting the basic principles of the NHS.

There will be more than 100 hospital schemes between 2000 and 2010 - many paid for partly by private finance

The government's hospital building programme is on track to meet this target, but the use of private money remains controversial.

Government target: Newly-qualified consultants will be banned from private practice for their first seven years in the job

This was intended to free up more consultant time for NHS patients.

However, it has not proved popular with the British Medical Association, and is one of the main sticking points holding up the arrival of a new nationally-negotiated contract, which should arrive later in 2002.