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Health Insight October 2002: Party conference time

  Last month saw the annual party political conferences in the UK. Health Secretary Alan Milburn told the Labour party conference that he would stand ‘four-square’ behind managers trying to bring overseas clinical teams into the NHS. Asked if it meant backing them in the face of resistance from existing clinical staff he said, ‘Doctors know we need more doctors’. Mr Milburn also spoke of his commitment to the establishment of foundation trusts and dismissed as ‘nonsense’ the claim that they would lead to the privatisation of hospitals. Earlier in the week the Transport and General Workers Union attacked the foundation concept, saying it represented a ‘full-blown and giant step towards privatisation of the NHS’ via the creation of two-tier systems. Mr Milburn said, ‘Not for profit, community-centred foundation trusts would allow the creation of a fourth centre for British healthcare alongside the NHS, the private and voluntary sectors.’ The Health Secretary also clashed with Chancellor Gordon Brown over the rights of foundation hospitals to borrow capital on the open market – and off the government balance sheet. Mr Brown openly showed his disagreement at the meeting. The issue was later said to have been ‘resolved and settled’ in Mr Brown’s favour.

At their conference the Conservatives heard Shadow health minister Dr Liam Fox pledge to end political interference in the NHS and allow every hospital to raise its own funds and manage its own budget – an extension of the current government’s policy on foundation trusts. Dr Fox also said the next Conservative government would introduce a voucher system allowing patients who opt out of the NHS to buy private healthcare.

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  Produced in United Kingdom by The British Council © 2001. The British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. Registered in England as a Charity.