Delegates at the UNISON National Delegate Conference in Glasgow yesterday said it was ‘government policy’ to drive NHS trusts into the red.

Delegates slammed Labour over privatisation and the return of the Tory market.

The debate on Motion 61 ‘Developing a UNISON Vision of the NHS’ came on the day that Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she is writing to a number of trust managers, warning them to do something about their deficits, as the government won’t bail them out.

This came after a joint report by the National Audit Office and Audit Commission said that unaudited accounts for 2004-5 showed that the NHS had a £140m deficit after underspending the year before.

Trust managers blamed government targets for the deficit, which they said was only 0.2 per cent of the NHS budget.

Proposing Motion 61, Roz Norman, East Midlands UNISON, said: ‘We must put on more pressure to ensure the NHS is free at the point of need.’

Norma Stevenson, from the NEC, proposing supportive amendment 61.1, that opposes GP practice-based commissioning as costly, added: ‘Billions of pounds are being paid to private firms taking money away from cash-strapped local hospitals.

‘Access to training is threatened, staff have no confidence in government initiatives.’

He added: ‘You might hope that these problems would concern the government, but the only thing that it has done is to invite the private sector to run so-called “failure regimes”.

‘The government talks a lot about quality, but it’s not really about that, it’s about competition.’

Marie Garrity, Glasgow Health UNISON, said: ‘There is more evidence than ever of the failure of the market in the NHS. We see companies making more money from the NHS than they ever could make by providing the services.’

Mick Holden, from Leicestershire Health UNISON, said: ‘We want an NHS with no foundation hospitals, no contracted out or privatised services, no contracted out or privatised patient care, and no charges for NHS services.

‘We want a democratic and totally accessible NHS. Patient need, not profitability should determine NHS services.

‘Patricia Hewitt has announced a massive increase in the amount of money going on private contracts. This will be money taken directly out of the budgets of NHS hospitals.’

He added: ‘Now management are calling for “salary sacrifice” from staff.

‘It’s this Labour government that has put them in financial crisis and it’s this Labour government that should get them out of it. This isn’t a flaw in government policy, this is government policy.

‘The taking back of the NHS must not take much longer.’

The substantive Motion 61 was overwhelmingly carried by delegates. It called for the union to ‘Campaign against the continued introduction of markets and competition into the NHS, highlighting the risks to patient services’ and to ‘Vigorously oppose any steps by the government or health trusts to introduce any further co-payment or charging for health services’.

News Line contacted the Royal College of Nursing yesterday. Howard Catton, RCN head of policy, said: ‘We raised back in April or May that a number of trusts were coming into deficit.

‘What is particularly concerning is some trusts are talking about reorganisation which may reduce patient services and have an impact on staff.

‘The loss of services and nursing staff would not be acceptable. There are enough nursing shortages already, the last thing we can afford to do is lose nursing posts.’

Responding to the National Audit Office report a BMA spokesperson said: ‘The BMA has been saying for a long time that if NHS reforms are going to be driven by market forces there will be winners and losers.

‘This report demonstrates that this has happened. The pressure to meet political targets on top of radical reform has meant that some trusts have been left in a devastating financial situation.

‘We are pleased that the Secretary of State for Health has publicly said that A&E Units will not close but as doctors we know that hospital units do not exist in isolation.

‘A&E departments need orthopaedic and trauma units, hospitals need to attract surgeons who are interested in elective surgery and emergency work. The system should be an integrated one.’