PUBLIC-SECTOR unions condemned officials at the "Department of Stealth" yesterday for ordering local NHS bosses to spend public money on private care.
From next year, Primary Care Trusts - which are responsible for 75 per cent of all health spending - have been instructed to divert between 10 and 15 per cent of their budgets to health privateers.
Health union UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis called the new measure "a disgrace.
"What was supposed to be a 10-15 per cent limit on private-sector involvement in the NHS has been turned into a target," he added.
"It interferes directly with trusts' freedom and the government's own claims that they want to devolve more power to local trusts.
"Left to their own devices, care trusts are choosing NHS hospitals and NHS services and this is because all the evidence shows that the private sector is more expensive and doesn't deliver value for money."
Sister union GMB general secretary Kevin Curran said that the new instructions had "cheapened the government's claim to be a defender of the NHS.
"For all the lip-service we hear paid to public services, private provision seems to be flourishing under Labour," he added. An angry Mr Curran said that the spread of private health care into the NHS is being helped along by "what must now be called the Department of Stealth."
A Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed that the instruction have now been issued to increase private spending.
"This is all correct. It is a letter that has gone out from one of our policy officials," she said.
"The whole thing is about us building capacity in the NHS. As part of that, we want patients locally to have the benefit of choice, so we are saying to the trusts that we should exercise that choice and they should exercise that choice."
However, the spokeswoman was unable to give detailed examples of how patients would actually benefit from the new rules.
Recalling the founder of Britain's NHS, furious Nottingham MP Alan Simpson said that the news is "almost enough to pull Nye Bevan from his grave.
"It's one thing to give the trusts permission to buy in services if they need to, but it's quite another to build in an obligation," he noted
Mr Simpson explained that one of the consequences of reducing NHS waiting lists would be to actually reduce demand for private health care.
"Why then, should public money be used to prop up the private services that we want to replace?" he asked.
Trusts are responsible for delivering patient care locally, from dental services to booking hospital beds for operations.
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