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Blair and Milburn braced for foundation trust backlash

Published on 28/10/03 at 03:12pm


The Government's controversial plans to introduce foundation hospitals are on a knife-edge ahead of a Commons vote on the reform next week.

Over 130 Labour MPs have already signed a Commons motion opposing the reform and the Conservatives have now hinted that they will not back the plan.

The party had previously stated its support in principle of foundation hospitals, which seek to give frontline staff greater freedom in managing their affairs, but Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox has called the Government's Bill a "a dog breakfast".

"Here we have a Government with a huge majority in Parliament dependent on the main opposition Party to get its domestic flagship policy through. What a mess that is", he said. "The Government should not rely on the Conservative Party to get its foundation hospitals legislation through".

The BMA has also voiced concerns about the Government's policy for reform. Dr Paul Miller, Chairman of the BMA's Consultants Committee, said the plans were "confused, illogical and could contribute to the end of the NHS".

He added: "[They have] little to do with giving hospitals local freedom from Whitehall control and everything to do with abdicating responsibility whilst imposing political targets".

Critics of foundation hospitals say they will introduce a two-tier health system, and will be free to take the pick of resources as the expense of normal hospitals.

Both the Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Prime Minister Tony Blair say no such inequality will occur, but Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to assure the Commons Treasury Select Committee that foundation hospitals' fund-raising abilities would not eat into others hospitals' budgets.

The Royal College of Nursing has also warned patient care could suffer if the Bill is passed, saying nurses may be attracted away from normal hospitals to work in those with foundation status.

"If they [foundation hospitals] get more money, do they widen the gap between the ones that are struggling? Do they attract more staff?", said RCN Deputy President Maura Buchanon at the College's Annual Congress in Harrogate.

Health Minister John Hutton said he expected nurses to take on elected roles as governors of foundation hospitals.

"Hospital governors elected by staff will work alongside governors directly elected by local people", he said. "In this way NHS hospitals will become even more accountable to the local communities they serve".

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