Published: 27/06/2002, Volume II2, No. 5811 Page 9

Managers have hailed a Scottish Executive decision to buy the country's biggest private hospital as a 'pragmatic' way to bring down waiting times.

Health minister Malcolm Chisholm announced last week that the Scottish Executive was in the advanced stages of a deal to buy HCI in Clydebank for£37.5m. HCI opened in 1994 at a cost of£180m, more than£30m of which had come from the taxpayer. It was shortly placed in receivership, then sold in 1995 to the current owners.

The hospital, which currently uses 52 beds but which has the capacity to expand to almost 10 times that size, will be turned into a national waiting times centre.

Run by a special health board, it will carry out cardiac surgery, hip and knee replacements and cataract operations for NHS patients from across Scotland.

Mr Chisholm said the executive had been approached by current owners, the Abu Dhabi Investment Company, which had said it did not want to continue the business. He said the hospital would treat 5,000 NHS patients in its first year.

Hilary Robertson, director of the Scottish NHS Confederation, described the move as 'pragmatic'.