THE BLAIR government lurched towards further confrontation with its own supporters over the health service this week. A bill which includes plans for foundation hospitals had its third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. The widespread opposition of Labour backbenchers has forced health secretary John Reid to make some cosmetic changes to the proposals.
Reid now says foundation hospitals must reflect the areas they serve. This is supposed to reassure critics that certain groups, like anti-abortionists, will not grab control of hospitals.
A government office also announced last week that foundation hospitals would have 'little scope' to decide their strategies independently of the government. Whether this was enough to head off a backbench revolt was not clear when Socialist Worker went to press.
These cosmetic changes come nowhere near addressing the real problems with foundation hospitals - privatisation and a two-tier health service. New research released last week should have been enough to get the most lily-livered Labour MP to rebel.
The Public Health Policy Unit at University College London warned how foundation hospitals would become businesses with no public safeguards. It said the proposals would mean greater inequality in access to healthcare.
This would be tied to 'the ability to pay, and where the level and quality of provision will depend on the wealth and resources of local communities'. Dr Peter Fisher, chair of the NHS Consultants' Association, warned that under New Labour's plans, 'The NHS would bear a disturbing resemblance to the other former public enterprises now in private hands.'