The Manufacturing, Science and Finance union has told MPs it has no objections to public-private partnerships in the NHS, provided quality and value can be assured.

The union's head of health, Roger Spiller, was speaking at the health select committee taking evidence on the role of the private sector in pathology services last week.

'If [the private sector] delivers a better service at a better price, then we would have no objections to that, ' Mr Spiller said. 'We believe there is an important case to be made for bringing in additional managers in the NHS. There is a shortage of competent managers and the private sector could provide more, but there is a way of doing this without changing the pay and conditions of staff.'

Pathology services have been a key area where PPP supporters have claimed private sector involvement could attract extra investment and boost quality.

In 1996, Quest Diagnostics was awarded a contract for pathology services at West Middlesex University Hospital trust.

Quest chief executive Gail Wannell told the committee that, although she believed similar improvements could been made through the public sector, the partnership had been a big success in bringing more support staff, new equipment and creating a responsive service. It had also saved the trust 10 per cent on its pathology budget, she said, and though there had been initial concerns from consultants and staff, 'people are happy with the service'.

MPs heard that a greater push towards PPP in pathology across the NHS could result in complications with the retained employment model - keeping staff under private sector management teams but within the NHS on public service pay and conditions.

Mr Spiller said attempts to draw a line between supervisors, who would be working for the private sector, and non-supervisors, who would be retained within the NHS, would prove difficult.

Karen Ward, business development director for Quest Diagnostics, said she had no objection to staff being retained within the NHS under PPP. 'It is important that they feel part of a positive organisation, ' she said.