PROFESSOR Wendy Savage, a distinguished academic and defender of public health, warned that NHS services risk becoming fully privatised if Government healthcare reforms are adopted into law during a meeting in Stroud.

Speaking at the British School on Monday night, Prof Savage said privatisation was a 'real danger'.

Dr Savage, a former member of the council of the British Medical Association, also voiced her support for the campaign by Stroud Against the Cuts to halt the transfer of parts of the NHS in Gloucestershire to social enterprises - including Stroud General Hospital.

Gloucestershire Primary Care Trust has said that legal action aimed at preventing the move could actually accelerate privatisation - but this was fiercely disputed at the meeting.

Kate Kay, a solicitor, said the PCT’s suggestion that the legal case could speed up privatisation was 'disingenuous and unhelpful'.

"The PCT’s argument is that there is no alternative to privatisation but that is just rubbish," she added.

In her speech, Prof Savage, a gynecologist and obstetrician, also accused Health Secretary Andrew Lansley of trying to privatise the UK’s healthcare system by stealth and she said a public relations offensive had been mounted to disguise his true intentions.

Critics of the Health and Social Care Bill argue that the reforms will put profits before patient care.

However, the Government maintains the changes are necessary to improve efficiency and reduce waste in the NHS.

In a statement issued after the meeting, NHS Gloucestershire chief executive Jan Stubbings said: "Following the transfer, local people will benefit from a community interest organisation responsible solely for providing community based NHS services, close to home."

She added the legal challenge would mean that community services would be competitively tendered with the result that bodies, both within and outside the NHS sector, could respond.

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