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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Foundation hospitals 'Labour's poll tax'
Casualty in hospital
Opposition to the government's plans is coming from all quarters

A union leader has predicted that foundation hospitals will become "Labour's poll tax".

Jack Dromey, national organiser for the TGWU, said he thought the "super hospital" policy will be bitterly opposed by the public.

He is among union leaders, opposition parties and some Labour MPs who fear the new hospitals will create a two-tier NHS.

"Foundation hospitals will be Labour's poll tax - political pain for no gain," he said.

"The founding principles of our NHS are a national standard of care. If Tony Blair takes the national out of the health service it will set hospital against hospital and nurse against nurse.

"Patients and staff will suffer together. Foundation hospitals will mean extremely bad news for cleaners, caterers and medical staff from Cornwall to Cumbria."

'Complete mess'

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have indicated they intend to vote against the government in a Commons vote on Wednesday.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the government was in a "complete mess" over the policy.

And Evan Harris, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said: "What the NHS needs is radical devolution and democratisation of the commissioning of health services rather than gimmicky and sham reforms to a few service providers."

And the prime minister faces opposition from his own backbenches.

More than 130 Labour MPs signed a motion opposing the creation of the elite hospitals.

People in the health service are frankly dizzy with change
David Hinchliffe
Labour MP

David Hinchliffe, the Labour chairman of the Commons health committee and MP for Wakefield, predicted a report by the committee, being published on the same day as the vote, would be heavily critical of the proposals.

"We are talking of `super-hospitals' when we've had a government committed over the last few years to a primary care-led NHS," he told BBC News 24.

"This seems a u-turn from the direction of travel in policy.

"A lot of colleagues are very worried about the direction of travel being very similar to the internal market that was introduced by the Tories.

"If you look at the reforms we've had over the last 20 years, we've calculated on the health committee ... that over the last 20 years there have been 18 significant restructurings taken place.

"People in the health service are frankly dizzy with change."

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