Alistair Darling accused of ‘opening the floodgates’ of NHS privatisation


darling  By a Newsnet reporter
The leader of the No campaign, Alistair Darling, is facing demands to clarify his views on the privatisation of the National Health Service south of the border after being accused of helping to kick start the process when he was UK Chancellor.
In a letter to Mr Darling, SNP MSP Dr Aileen McLeod has called on the former Chancellor to explain why he failed to prevent the huge increase in private sector involvement in the NHS in England during the last Labour government – in which he served as Chancellor for the final three years.

In her letter to Mr Darling, MSP Dr McLeod writes: “For the final three years of Labour’s term in office, you served as Chancellor of the Exchequer while this process of privatisation was ongoing – essentially in charge of the UK Government’s purse strings while the first blows against the NHS were being dealt.

“With this in mind, I would be grateful if you could confirm whether or not you were, and remain, in support of the privatisation of the national Health Service in England.

“If not, why did you fail to speak out out against the moves which it is now clear are destroying the English NHS – and why did you fail to use your position as Chancellor to veto this disastrous policy.”

Earlier this week, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham stated that the current policies of the UK Government will “eventually destroy everything that’s precious” about the NHS.

Mr Burnham warned that decisions taken at Westminster would determine whether there was an NHS left at all.

He added: “If things stay as they are, the competition framework foisted on the NHS will in the end break it up.  It won’t survive five more years of this.”

The issue has also witnessed former Labour party Minister Frank Dobson concede that his own party were responsible for starting the privatisation process.

In a recent interview, the former Labour Health Secretary was asked if NHS privatisation started under New Labour.  He responded: “Oh certainly, yes! And that’s the embarrassment in the chamber: because they [the Tories] shout back ‘You started it.”

Labour’s support for the privatisation of NHS services dates back to the publication in 2006 of ‘Our Health, Our Care, Our Say’.  In the document Labour gave more power to GPs over how English NHS cash was spent.

The Labour document said: “This will allow them to acquire for their patients services from a broader range of providers within the NHS, voluntary and private sector.”

The document added: “There is a plurality of providers in primary and community services, from the public, private and voluntary sectors.  What matters most to the users of services is not who provides them, but how good the service is.”

Last year it emerged Mr Alistair Darling had been paid thousands of pounds by a company heavily involved in the privatisation of the English NHS.
In 2011, the Edinburgh MP who heads the anti-independence campaign Better Together, received over £10,000 for addressing a dinner organised by Cinven Limited.  The company is a leading buyout firm, who in 2008 bought 25 private hospitals from Bupa for £1.44bn.

The issue is moving to the centre stage in the independence referendum with Yes campaigners pointing out that Labour’s privatisation agenda is now simply being extended by the Tories.

Commenting, Dr McLeod, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee said:

“Andy Burnham has spent the last week telling us that the privatisation of the health service south of the border risks destroying the NHS – and he is absolutely right. 

“But he failed to take responsibility for the fact that it was the last Labour government which opened the floodgates on NHS privatisation – a government in which Alistair Darling held the purse strings.

“While Alistair Darling was Chancellor, private sector involvement in the NHS south of the border doubled. Mr Darling needs to tell us if he approved these plans and why he didn’t take action to stop them.”

Andy Burnham’s recent comments follow on from warnings from top breast cancer surgeon Dr Philippa Whitford that the consequential cuts to the Scottish budget from Westminster’s disastrous health policies could lead to serious pressure on Scotland’s NHS unless there is a Yes vote.

There are fears that a No vote in Septembers referendum will see Scotland’s budget cut by billions as Westminster continues the austerity agenda.  Yes supporters say that increased privatisation south of the border will lead to cutbacks which will result in proportionate cuts in Scotland’s NHS.

Ms McLeod added: “Alistair Darling has serious questions to answer on his record. He can’t run away from his responsibility for the privatisation of England’s health service and the risk this poses to the Scottish NHS budget.

“He should come clean and apologise for the disastrous impact of the policies which he ushered in as Chancellor.”

Privatisation of the English NHS has been a difficult issue for the Labour party in Scotland.

In 2012 several prominent Scottish Labour MPs were slammed after it emerged they had voted in favour of a motion that backed the role played by private providers in the NHS in England.  The MPs, including Margaret Curran, Anas Sarwar and Jim Murphy, backed a Labour motion which said:

“That this House believes there is an important role for the private sector in supporting the delivery of NHS care; welcomes the contribution made by private providers…”

Speaking in support of the motion, Andy Burnham himself said: “Let me be clear.  As our motion states, we believe that there is a role for the private sector in helping the NHS to deliver the best possible services to NHS patients, and that was the policy we pursued in government.”

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