CO-OP Party chairman Gareth Thomas made a spirited defence of the principle of foundation hospitals when he addressed the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.
In his fraternal address to Labour delegates on behalf of the Co-op Party, Mr Thomas – Labour/Co-op MP for Harrow West and 2003 Congress President – pointed out that the Co-op Party had voted in favour of the Governmement's foundation trust proposals at its recent annual conference in Newcastle because it recognised that decentralisation of the National Health Service represents our `greatest opportunity to put the public back into public services and make local hospitals more directly accountable to the ordinary people who use them`.
Quoting a 1946 speech by Nye Bevan , Mr Thomas reminded Labour delegates that the former Minister for Health ? one of the principal architects of the NHS ? had said that one of the great dangers of a government health service is over-centralisation .
Mr Thomas said Bevan's warning remains as relevant now as it did then. `We need a health service that is truly national; that operates to national standards, where patients in one part of the country can expect the same level of service in Bolton as they get in London,` said Mr Thomas.
`But we need a national health service that is run by local people. Local people, past patients, future patients – the very people reliant on the local hospital helping to shape the service their hospital provides.`
The Co-op MP asked delegates if they really knew who sits on the quangos and trust boards who currently run hospitals.
He asked: `Why can't we vote to elect people, local people, to hold the managers of our local hospitals to account?
`Why can't we see workers, health service workers, nurses maybe, doctors too sitting on the Governing body of the hospital they work for and helping to shape the very services they help to deliver?`
Added Mr Thomas: `The creation of foundation hospitals has nothing to do with privatisation, and is not about creating an elite while some hospitals are left behind ? it is about putting mutuality and democracy at the heart of public sector reform; about raising standards across the board, about freeing up staff to make decisions with less cumbersome interference from Whitehall.
`The Co-op Movement and our friends in the wider mutual sector understand about making democracy work in the large organisations.. Local democracy can help to reshape our public services, binding them ever closer to local communities, ensuring they are strong and effective enough to make a mockery of the Tories privatisation plans.`
Mr Thomas said the Co-op Party was not advocating privatisation, but championing democracy.
`We are not trying to shift public services towards a right wing minimalist public realm, he insisted. `Instead we are seeking to take the traditional co-op principles of local public ownership and genuine grassroots democracy and co-operation and use them to put the public back into public ownership, to build strong services and honest businesses, to take co-operative values into the mainstream.`
During the health service debate, Health Secretary John Reid also emphasised that the Government's proposals were about decentralisation and giving local people the chance to control their own health providers.
However conference decisively rejected the motion in favour of foundation hospitals and instructed the Government to abandon their proposals.