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Hewitt rejects privatisation charge

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has denied the use of private treatment centres to treat NHS patients is "privatisation by stealth".

Her answer came in response to Colchester Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell who said the centres are undermining local NHS providers.

He told the Commons: "These private health centres are privatisation of the National Health Service by stealth.

"Every patient who is forced to go to one of these independent centres will undermine the financial stability of local hospital trusts."

But Ms Hewitt countered: "You are wrong on every count. Independent Sector Treatment Centres aren't privatisation by stealth or any other means - patients aren't forced to go to ISTCs.

"I would hope you would support that, and also support the fact that nine out of 10 patients said their hospital treatment from the NHS is good or very good or excellent, and we should be proud of that."

Former Cabinet minister and Conservative Wokingham MP John Redwood is urging the Government to increase the provision of private centres.

"I would like to see these centres in the Reading area where they would expand capacity and help people who can't get treatment at the moment."

Ms Hewitt said the centres have helped cut waiting times, adding: "All of the treatment they provide is on the NHS free at the point of need and that is what matters to patients."

Department of Health

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