Clearer guidance is needed on the care of children in private hospital beds, the Commons health select committee has been told.

Royal College of Nursing policy consultant Sally Tabar told the committee the union was concerned that very young children were receiving unnecessary surgery, and there was a lack of suitable staff and equipment to care for them properly.

The RCN wrote to the Department of Health raising concerns in 1997, and was told: 'Standards for the care of children in private facilities, whether they be in an NHS hospital or a private hospital, are not the concern of this department.'

In 1998, the DoH responded to a similar letter, saying that if children were in NHS hospitals they should be governed by NHS standards.

Ms Tabar asked: 'Are we to assume there has been a change of policy, and if so why weren't NHS managers informed?'

A DoH spokesperson said it was 'aware of concerns about the regulatory framework affecting private sector care for children' and it was currently consulting on the issue.

He was unable to clarify whether there had been a change of policy.

A spokesperson for the NHS Confederation said: 'The DoH certainly got it wrong. Managers have been using other forms of guidance on the matter, from the Audit Commission and voluntary groups.'