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Tory MPs back expansion of private sector role in NHS

By Gareth Iacobucci

The majority of Conservative MPs support moves to give the private sector an increasingly prominent role in the NHS in the future, a new survey has found.

The cross-party poll of 150 MPs found that Conservatives, younger MPs and those from the south of England were most likely to view the NHS as unsustainable in its current form, and most supportive of the need to involve the private sector.

The survey by COMRES on behalf of BMI Healthcare – which will come as a blow to Tory leader David Cameron's campaign to present the Conservative party as ‘the party of the NHS' - suggests that the predicted high turnover of MPs at the next general election will lead to greater support for the private sector.

Over three quarters of Conservative MPs agreed that the NHS should fund patients' treatment through private providers if it reduced waiting times, compared to 47% of Labour and 55% of Lib Dem MPs.

Similarly, 67% of Conservatives agreed that patients should receive co-payments for treatment funded jointly by the NHS and the private sector, compared to 36% of Lib Dems and 14% of Labour MPs.

Party disagreements were stark on whether private providers should be invited to run NHS hospitals where they had failed to meet minimum standards of care, with 84% of Conservatives agreeing, compared with 30% of Lib Dems, and just 17% of Labour.

Over two thirds of Conservative MPs supported the introduction of income tax relief on standard rate income tax for private medical insurance, compared to just 5% of Lib Dems and 1% of Labour MPs.

Similarly, 55% of Conservative MPs supported the introduction of tax relief on private healthcare fees, compared to just 1% of Labour MPs.

The survey found that 72% of MPs born before 1950 believe the current NHS model is sustainable for the next 60 years, compared to 42% of MPs born after 1960.

There was also a regional split of opinions – with 82% of MPs from the North believing the NHS is sustainable, against 52% in the South.

Andrew Hawkins, chief executive of Comres, said: ‘These results show that Conservatives and younger MPs are more sympathetic to the role private sector companies can play in the NHS than their older, non-Tory counterparts.

‘Given that we can expect a relatively high turnover of MPs at the next General Election – perhaps more than a third of the House – we should expect that the direction of travel for the House is towards more support for private sector involvement in the health service.'

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