Lamont urged to clarify stance on NHS privatisation


  By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has been challenged to make clear whether the Labour party’s commission on public spending will call for greater privatisation in Scotland’s NHS, following the publication of a report detailing the rapid increase in private sector involvement in the NHS in England under Labour.

The rush towards privatisation in the NHS south of the border, begun under the previous Labour Government, means that one in five patients with certain conditions are now seen by private firms, according to a recently published report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The report shows that the sector is now responsible for 17% of NHS hip replacements in England (11,500 operations annually), 17% of NHS hernia operations in England (9,000 operations annually) and are involved in thousands of other procedures. 

In 2006/07, NHS outpatient data indicate that there were 10 sites offering privatised treatment on the English NHS, reporting 15,000 first outpatient attendances; by 2010/11 this had grown to almost half a million outpatient attendances funded by the NHS across 161 private sector providers, accounting for 3.5% of all first outpatient attendances in the English NHS.

The report notes that the falling proportion of patients attended to by their nearest NHS Trust was accompanied by a corrosponding rise in the proportion attending appointments at privatised service providers.  In 2003/04, 68 per cent of hip replacements, 76 per cent of cholecystectomies and 77 per cent of hernia operations were performed at the patient’s nearest NHS Trust. By 2010/11, this had fallen to 54 per cent, 69 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively.

Labour’s support for the idea that “any willing provider” should provide NHS services dates back to the publication in 2006 of ‘Our Health, Our Care, Our Say’.

By contrast, the NHS in Scotland has remained firmly in public hands.  The Scottish Government is opposed to the introduction of privatisation in any aspect of the Scottish NHS.   

Meanwhile in a separate report, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), responsible for regulating England’s NHS and social care, describes a service which is struggling to provide high-quality patient care while resources are stretched ever further.  

The CQC makes damning criticism of England’s privatised services for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and substance misuse problems.  According to the CQC’s annual report, 27% of non-NHS providers in England did not provide adequate safeguards for these vulnerable patient groups, and over half – 51% – failed to meet the CQC’s standards for protecting the care and welfare of people with learning disabilities.

The Scottish NHS reports a very different experience.  Speaking as NHS Scotland published its annual report last week, Chief Executive Derek Feeley highlighted a number of achievements, including meeting the target of having 90% of patients wait no longer than 18 weeks from referral to treatment.

Mr Feeley said: “In a number of important areas of patient care, NHS Scotland has delivered its best ever performance during the past 12 months.

“Waiting times are at their lowest ever levels, care is safer than it has ever been, levels of premature mortality have been further reduced and patients continue to rate their care very positively.”

Now SNP MSP Bob Doris has written to Johann Lamont calling on her to make clear whether the Labour party’s commission is examining an increased role for the private sector in Scotland’s NHS.

Mr Doris, who is the Deputy Convener of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee said:

“Labour’s track record when it comes to the involvement of the private sector in the NHS is a sorry one and this recent IFS report only raises more questions.

“It shows the scale of the privatisation in the health service that Labour inflicted on people south of the border during their time in office and people will understandably be worried that this is what Labour’s Cuts Commission has planned for Scotland.

“The purpose of the NHS is to treat patients, not to line the pockets of private companies.  That is why the SNP is committed to a health service that remains in public hands and free at the point of need, a principle we restored with the abolition of prescription charging.

“With Johann Lamont’s Cuts Commission stating that ‘nothing is off the table’, people in Scotland will be understandably concerned that Labour’s intention for Scotland is to bring in the same privatisation of the NHS as took place south of the border when they were in power at Westminster.

“Johann Lamont must clearly state whether this is what she wants to see in Scotland and I would urge her to do so as a matter of urgency.”