PM happy for more private care within the NHS

The Prime Minister is ready to give the private sector a much bigger role in providing National Health Service care in a move that will be strongly resisted by Gordon Brown and the Labour Left.

Tony Blair and John Reid, the Health Secretary, urged on by Alan Milburn, Labour's election co-ordinator, believe private providers must play an increasing role if Labour is to keep its promise to cut waiting times to a maximum of 18 weeks by 2008.

Yesterday, as the row between Labour and the Tories over health intensified, Mr Blair made clear that the Government's 15 per cent limit on the amount of NHS care provided by private firms could be exceeded.

While he doubted that it would rise sharply above this figure, because the NHS is expanding its own capacity, private providers would be used wherever needed.

"It will only ever apply in a relatively small amount of the system," he said. "But you have got to have the ability, if the NHS is not able to cope for any reason, to go outside to independent providers."

Mr Blair, who said care would still be "free at the point of use within the NHS", added: "If people are in pain or in need we will do whatever we can to help them out of that."

Currently the private sector provides eight per cent of operations for the NHS.

The Government says that by 2008 patients will be able to choose to go to whatever hospital they want, including private ones under contract to local trusts, so long as they provide operations at NHS prices.

The state pays the private provider and the patient pays nothing. Mr Brown, the Chancellor, is wary of widening the private sector's role, believing that less popular NHS hospitals would be under-used and therefore waste public money.

The plans are controversial within Labour, with Left-wingers resenting what they see as creeping "privatisation". A Government source said an announcement to lift the 15 per cent limit could come soon.
This after they bashed Micheal Howards plans to alleviate pressure on the NHS by providing patients with the choice of partially subsidised private care.
C'mon, A_S - don't you know that a Tory policy is necessarily bad, evil & unworkable until Labour adopts it a few weeks later, when it's the perfect solution to all our needs!
Well yes, i shouldnt really be shocked! :D

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