By Martin Kelly
The chairman of Britain’s private healthcare giant BUPA has given his backing to the No campaign it has emerged.
Lord Leitch declared his backing for Better Together in a communication signed by other pro-Union businesspeople that will be published by the Better Together campaign.
The backing for No by the head of a company involved in private healthcare is sure to be controversial given the NHS is now a central issue in the independence campaign.
Within hours of the revelation, a pro-Yes group pounced on the news saying it was a reminder of why a Yes vote will protect Scotland’s health service.
Pro-independence group NHS for Yes have said that the announcement should ‘hardly come as a surprise’ and that a vote against independence would see a ‘financially weakened’ NHS Scotland.
Co-founder of NHS for Yes, Dr Willie Wilson said: “The news that Lord Leitch, chairman of BUPA, is to support a No vote in the Referendum, can hardly come as a surprise. BUPA is a major provider of health insurance and its activities facilitate the penetration of the healthcare market by private companies.
“Private health care is a burgeoning industry in the south east of England. The Scottish government, with agreement of all the parties in Holyrood, has made it clear that they will not allow privatisation of healthcare in Scotland. The small sums spent – well under 1% of the total budget – on private work by NHS Scotland have largely been required to shorten waiting lists.
“The immediate danger of a No vote to NHS Scotland lies mainly in the £25 billion of additional austerity cuts which are promised from Westminster from next year. Since our NHS budget uses 40% of our total block grant, and so many savings have already been made in other spending departments, NHS Scotland would inevitably suffer cuts if rhye was a No vote.
“Multinational healthcare companies are currently enjoying a feeding frenzy with English NHS contracts already exceeding £10 billion. Thus it is absolutely clear that if we reject the opportunity of independence next week, we would see a financially weakened NHS Scotland which the privatisation vultures would rapidly try to pick their way into. That is why it is vital that Scotland votes Yes.”
The move by its chairman to back No brought a hurried statement from the company distancing itself from the announcement.
A Bupa spokeswoman said Leitch was giving his own personal view and not that of the company, adding: “BUPA is apolitical – we work constructively with governments of all parties.”
The NHS has become one of the key battlegrounds of the independence campaign with Yes highlighting the privatisation agenda south of the border which they say will eventually lead to cutbacks in the Scottish NHS budget.
Private company involvement in the English NHS has also led to difficulty for Better Together leader Alistair Darling.
In July 2013 it emerged that the Labour MP was paid thousands of pounds by a company heavily involved in the privatisation of the English NHS.
In 2011, the Edinburgh MP 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.
Currently in the House of Lords some 37 Labour peers are involved with private healthcare companies giving each scope to benefit financially from the growing privatisation of the NHS in England.