THE government has responded to a stinging attack by a North-East Labour MP after a leading hospital trust hired external consultants to help them tackle a growing deficit which it is feared could spiral to £50m.

Graeme Morris, MP for Easington, accused the Government of putting the NHS “on the path to privatisation” after the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announced that it had invited consultants McKinsey to help them to slash spending.

Trust bosses revealed that they had negotiated a reduced rate with the consultants and the fee would come to less than 0.1 per cent of their overall budget of £550m - about £550,000.

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A spokesman for the trust , which runs the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, added: “They’re putting part of their fee at risk if we don’t deliver the savings.”

Mr Morris said: “The Coalition Government’s Health and Social Care Act has put the NHS onto the path of privatisation. McKinsey were a cheerleader for the Government’s health reforms and they are now profiting from lucrative contracts by advising health trusts how to cut budgets and the NHS services we all rely on.

“We need a fundamental shift in the NHS, a return to its founding principles.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Trusts are free to make management decisions they feel are in the best interest of their patients, but they are being overseen by Monitor, the independent regulator of foundation trusts.

“This Government is completely committed to the founding principles of the NHS - that it is free at the point of use and based on a person's clinical need, and there are absolutely no plans to change this. The key thing is that no matter who provides them, NHS services are commissioned in the best interests of patients.”