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Sunday, 24 June, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'Labour MPs uneasy on NHS plans'
Frank Dobson with Tony Blair
Dobson: Labour MPs uneasy about Blair's plans
Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson says there is "considerable unease" among Labour backbenchers over the government's plans for greater use of the private sector to help run public services.

In an interview with GMTV on Sunday, Mr Dobson said ministers had not given any clarity in explaining the proposals - mooted by Tony Blair during the election campaign for services like the NHS.


The core principles of the NHS are not up for sale

Alan Milburn
Health Secretary
Mr Dobson's concerns came as his successor as health secretary, Alan Milburn, tried to calm fears about the plans.

But TUC general secretary John Monks said it was fighting talk from the "heart of Labour" which had made trade unions fearful of the government's agenda.

Unease

Mr Dobson said: "I think there is considerable unease (among backbenchers) because there hasn't been any clarity about what's envisaged.

"But I think if things are clarified then most people will accept very limited involvement which, as I understand it, the government contemplates."

The former health secretary and London mayoral candidate said he wanted to ensure the basic principles of the NHS were not undermined by the plans.

And he said the suggestion that the government would "take on" on the public services was not the right approach.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC
Monks: Loose Labour talk has caused trouble
"I come back to the point that in the end, the health service will depend on the enthusiasm, professionalism and commitment of the people working in it.

"If we're going to improve it, we've got to be able to command their support for what's being done.

"They can't be dragooned into it, it simply wouldn't work."

Union worries

The trade unions especially have been worried about the direction Labour may be taking public services.

TUC general secretary John Monks told GMTV on Sunday: "We are in the totally unnecessary position almost as though somebody has been trying to pick a fight with us - the public sector unions and employees."

Mr Monks said the unions were "very enthusiastic" that the government had made improving public services its top priority.

"We don't want to blow it all with all this talk of confrontation. It is causing maximum apprehension and concern and minimum clarity."

Mr Monks blamed loose talk from people "close to the heart of Labour" in the heat of the election campaign.

He recognised the private sector had an "important role to play but at the heart of the public services is a sense of serving the public and not working for profit".

Not up for sale

Health Secretary Alan Milburn sought to calm the fears in a newspaper interview.

NHS principles were "not up for sale", he told the Independent on Sunday, and healthcare would be based on clinical need not the ability to pay.

He set out four areas where the private sector would be allowed into the NHS:

  • Operations - including those for cataracts and gall bladders - in private hospitals on NHS patients and financed by the NHS.

  • Management for new, high volume specialist NHS surgery centres.

  • Private finance extended to improving GPs surgeries and in mental health, social services and radiology equipment.

  • Information technology and buildings' management.

    Mr Milburn said the plans were not an "open ended commitment" and there would be boundaries to the public-private relationship.

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