COMMUNITY health services should be retained within the NHS and not auctioned off to private sector providers, according to the new leader of Stroud District Council.

Councillor Geoff Wheeler (Lab, Dursley) has written to the chief executive of NHS Gloucestershire Jan Stubbings to express support for the creation of a stand-alone NHS Trust to deliver local health services.

The Labour leader, who heads an informal alliance between his party, the Lib Dems and the Greens, said: "The possibility of creating an NHS Trust to provide community services is most welcome and is an option we as a council would encourage is pursued vigorously.

"Not only does it mean that our local services are not outsourced to private providers, but it has the potential advantage that it would not require the delay and expense of a tendering process."

NHS Gloucestershire will decide in the autumn whether or not to initiate a tender process, which would allow private sector companies to bid to takeover services.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Unite health sector member Hannah Basson recently revealed that NHS Gloucestershire is under no obligation to offer services to private providers if it chooses to create a stand-alone Trust.

Using FOI legislation Mrs Basson was able to obtain correspondence between the Department of Health and Gloucestershire’s MPs.

In one letter sent to Cotswolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown last month, health minister Simon Burns confirmed that services could in fact be transferred straight over to a new NHS Trust without the need for a tendering process.

Last Friday (June 15) Jan Stubbings wrote to community partners to inform them that NHS Gloucestershire had received 63 expressions of interest from various parties interested in running community health services.

She said the interested parties included NHS bodies, community interest companies, voluntary sector providers and private firms.

However, Mrs Stubbings said ‘fewer than 10’ of these organisations had formally confirmed their interest by completing an initial questionnaire.

NHS Gloucestershire has promised to engage with staff and members of the public before it makes its final decision about how services should be run.

In a recent survey of staff conducted by NHS Gloucestershire, 91 per cent of respondents backed the formation of a stand-alone NHS Trust to run community health services, including nine hospitals.

On Saturday, June 16, co-ordinated rallies were staged by anti-cuts groups across the county calling for health services to remain publicly run.

Last week, Neil Carmichael said he supported the Trust option but cautioned that it might not be feasible.

Following local elections in April, SDC’s new administration created the post of executive member for health and well-being, which has been filled by Cllr Karon Cross (Lab, Cainscross).

Cllr Cross, who recently qualified as a nurse, is "responsible for liaising with health and social care providers in the district and ensuring that future health changes are raised in a fair, transparent and democratic way," a spokesman for SDC said.