Britons worry profits to trump services in hospital deal

Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:19pm EST
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By Tim Castle

HUNTINGDON, England (Reuters) - Maggie Blight has only praise for the local state-funded hospital where she got her hernia fixed last year.

"I couldn't fault it. It was excellent," the 67-year-old family worker said of the care she received at Hinchingbrooke hospital in Huntingdon, 60 miles northeast of London.

Now she is worried, not for her own health, but for that of the debt-laden hospital, which is the first in more than 60 years to be transferred to a private company from the state system under a contract approved on November 10.

At the heart of her concerns -- shared by many in England -- are fears that organizing health services around profit will lead to services being cut and patients being forced to pay extra for some treatments.

Ministers and officials stress the worries are unfounded, but the subject is sensitive in a country where the National Health Service, providing free care for all since 1948, is viewed with an almost religious awe.

Any dilution of the system where the state both pays for and provides medical care is routinely condemned as unacceptable "privatization."

"I think of it as our National Health Service, it belongs to us, we paid for it," said Blight.

"As soon as you have got private enterprise involved, the word profit pops up," she said.   Continued...

<p>People leave Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon, eastern England November 3, 2011. Circle, a medical cooperative listed on the London stock market with ownership shared between its employees and international investment funds, will take over management of Huntingdon from February. The hospital's future had been in doubt since 2007 after it ran up debts of 39 million pounds on an annual turnover of just 100 million pounds, partly because a new treatment centre failed to attract as many patients as expected. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett</p>