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German firm in talks about NHS takeover

A German private hospital group has been in secret talks with the coalition government about the potential takeover of NHS hospitals.

Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act  (FoIA) reveal that the company Helios met with the Department of Health (DoH) and the NHS to discuss “potential opportunities in London” at a workshop organised by management consultant McKinsey.

The documents were obtained by SpinWatch and handed to the Guardian. The revelation comes as health minister Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, the longest in NHS history, returns to the House of Commons for a final vote.

Critics have attacked the bill for opening up the NHS to privatisation and warned against the dangers of adopting a US model. Under the new law more than 20 NHS hospitals could be handed to private foreign firms.

McKinsey warned those present at the meeting about the “various political constraints” of privatising hospitals en masse and suggested starting “from a mind-set of one at a time”, according to the information released by the DoH.

The meeting took place in December, a month before Lansley announced the Health and Social Care Bill. Details of the meeting were kept secret until freedom of information requests forced the government to disclose them.

John Healey, Labour’s health spokesman, told the Guardian that the meetings suggested there was “a well-worked secret plan for privatising hospitals”.

The emails reveal that the workshop’s agenda included “how international hospital provider groups may help to tackle the performance improvement of UK hospitals”. Helios was then briefed about “potential opportunities in London”.

Helios gave a presentation to the NHS and DoH titled “what an international player would suggest”. The company was given an update on the “situation for NHS hospitals” and the “specific situation in London”.

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