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Bosses defend hospital plans.

Health chiefs on Teesside today defended their campaign to win foundation status for their hospitals after failing to win backing from an influential committee.

Joan Rogers, chief executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, was among bosses who explained why their hospitals should be among the first to gain the power to run their own affairs.

But the Health Select Committee warned the controversial changes at the trust may split the NHS and lead to poorer services among other hospitals.

The Commons committee chairman David Hinchliffe said poorer performing hospitals would be locked "in a downward spiral of poor performance."

Today Ms Rogers told the Gazette the scheme would mean services at the University Hospitals of North Tees and University Hospitals of Hartlepool would be directly accountable to the public.

She added that although the changes would not be immediate, the move would lead to improved health care, because the trust would be able to borrow cash to boost services.

"It will mean greater community involvement and that is very important," she said.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn wants to give foundation trusts more financial freedom, including the ability to borrow, sell off assets, and retain surplus funds.

And their local communities would have the ability to control the sites, by electing representatives to serve as governors.

In a bid to uncover the full implications of the reforms, the select committee launched an inquiry. The findings were published today, hours before a Commons vote on the plans which could see Prime Minister Tony Blair defeated.

Mr Blair has urged Labour backbenchers who may be considering voting against the Government later today to back the motion.

Speaking after a breakfast meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Mr Blair said: "I hope people listen to the argument and realise that we have asked our public to put a large sum of money from their taxes into the National Health Service.

"It is absolutely vital that we make the changes and reforms that make that money work.

"These reforms are supported by all the people within the health service that wants to make sure that they have got the local freedom and ability to deliver a better service for their patients.

"That is what it is all about - making sure that we have a National Health Service that is true to its principles but properly modernised for the world in which we live."

North Tees Primary Care Trust boss Chris Willis told the inquiry it would be incredibly difficult if a foundation hospital's board of governors disagreed with national targets. And Ms Rogers said the move could lead to an increase in bureaucracy, but added that there would be a rigorous selection process for the board.

* Open to Question with Alan Milburn: See Page 8
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:May 7, 2003
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