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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: British healthcare unions have attacked a plan to hire a big American medical company to "operate" the UK's state run health service. The company, Novation, is based in Texas. It's been accused of overcharging the American healthcare system. Stephen Beard has more from London.

STEPHEN BEARD: The British government is contracting out the purchase of medical supplies for the state-owned National Health Service.

It's negotiating with a consortium which includes Novation. The group would handle the purchasing of everything from surgical gloves to hip implants.

But Novation is controversial. It's been accused, along with other companies in the US, of overcharging Medicare and Medicaid by $27 billion a year. The company denies it.

Britain's Health Secretary Patricia Hewit says she will weigh up any deal with Novation very carefully.

PATRICIA HEWITT: We will only go ahead with it, if we're absolutely convinced that it's going to be good for patients, good for staff, but also good for the taxpayer.

Novation and its consortium partner say if they win the British contract, they'll save the British taxpayer almost $2 billion a year.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.