Coalition continues Labour’s aim of opening up NHS services to private sector


UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley revealed yesterday that £1bn of NHS services are to be opened up to private competition across eight NHS services in England and Wales.

Mr. Langsley said the “any qualified provider” provision in the Health and Social Care Bill will include those for treating back and neck pain, child wheelchair services, stress and depression – further areas of treatment will be added later.

‘Patient choice’ was introduced by Labour in 2006 and currently accounts for 4.1% of routine operations or approximately £500 million of the £12bn cost.  Labour ministers had intended 15% or about £2bn of routine surgery be carried out by the private sector and Tory Health minister Langsley intends to reach Labour’s 15% goal.  

Mr. Langsley has had to proceed more slowly with his reforms after the NHS Futures Forum, established by David Cameron, fired a heavy barrage of criticism at his plans.  However, he insisted the reforms will offer patients more choice and that private providers will be subject to quality checks and receive a fixed price determined by the NHS tariff, thus ensuring competition is based on quality and not price.

The bill’s opponents say it is privatisation transforming the NHS south of the border into a market-driven health service provider where patients become consumers and second to profits.  Naturally, companies will be out to gain profit; since medical equipment offers limited scope for cost-reduction then quality of staff/staff numbers and quality of patient service will be the inevitable targets for cost-savings and increased profits. 

Opponents add, when NHS competition produces market failure the result is the restriction of choice for patients who wish to use NHS services and the ultimate consequence is the closure of services – echoing the recent example of Southern Cross retirement homes.

The “any qualified provider” policy begins next April and at least three of the eight services in the bill will be fully “opened up” by September 2012.