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Storm over PCT tender advert

Hewitt denies government is committed to privatising the NHS

Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has denied that the government is privatising the NHS, after the publication of a controversial Department of Health (DoH) contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

The DoH withdrew the document inviting private companies to tender for the management of primary care trusts (PCTs), after several newspaper reports suggested it showed that the government was pressing ahead with plans to privatise the NHS.

The advertisement said: `The NHS is progressing with the implementation of the vision and step change from a service-provider to a commissioning-led organisationî. It added that services to be provided by bidding contractors would include management of financial, administrative, human resources, health and social work services.

With potential applicants expected to have experience of managing ?300 million-plus healthcare budgets, campaigners are fearful that only large healthcare insurers, including US firms, are likely to apply.

In an open letter, Hewitt said there was `no question whatsoever' of privatising the NHS.

`This government is committed to a publicly-funded health service that is free at the point of use and available to all, regardless of means,' she wrote.

She added that the OJEU document contained `drafting errors and therefore did not accurately reflect government policy, which is why it was withdrawn'.

Healthcare unions poured scorn over what they described as a government U-turn.

Unison, the largest NHS trade union, accused the government of a breach of trust and said the advert suggests that the government had resurrected a plan to turn PCTs into purely commissioning bodies and transfer a swathe of jobs into the private sector.

ìThis is such a fundamental breach of trust that we are asking the Trade Union Congress to get together a meeting of all health unions to thrash out a policy,î said Unison head of health, Karen Jennings.

30th September 2008

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