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Health bill facing a tough ride … and other health stories

Our round-up of the health headlines on Monday 5 September.

As the health bill returns to the House of Commons, revelations from yesterday's Observer that the Government has been discussing handing over up to 20 hospitals to the private sector and that key Lib Dem peer Dame Shirley Williams is unconvinced by amendments to the legislation, will worry ministers.

Nerves won't be helped by the Independent's news that managers at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs three major hospitals in London and two smaller units, is considering a proposal to shut St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and sell off the site to property developers in order to pay off debts.

However reformers have said evidence that the NHS must radically change can be found in a Telegraph investigation that has found that 10 PCTs have been asking hospitals to delay treatment in a bid to save money. Managers believe the policy saves them money as they can predict the number of elective procedures they will have to pay for — such as hip replacements or cataract removal — and if necessary delay them into the following financial year when they will have fresh funds.

The Telegraph also reports the first new drug in more than 50 years to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with an irregular heartbeat goes on sale in England today. Dabigatran was found in clinical trials to cut the chance of stroke by more than a third among elderly people with atrial fibrillation, compared with the standard treatment, warfarin. The drug's manufacturers claim it requires far less supervision than warfarin saving the NHS money as well.

The health service will need to find such savings if it is to afford perks for chief executive Sir David Nicholson who it is reported claimed more than £50,000 a year in expenses to live in a London flat, with a basic salary of more than £200,000 and will retire with a pension pot worth more than £1 million.