NHS England to be carved up in £20bn privatisation

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Private healthcare firms in England are preparing for a £20bn bonanza over the next few years, as the Tories further step up their privatisation of the English NHS.

A new report by Catalyst Corporate Finance outlines the “major opportunities”for private healthcare providers who are ready to cash in on the Coalition Government’s desire to dismantle the Health service in England, where privatisation will reach into GP practices, sexual health clinics and even entire hospitals.

The report by the corporate finance company hails the Conservative privatisation plans as a “significant opportunity for the private sector in primary and secondary care,” and adds:

“The introduction of GP commissioning and interest in healthcare models offering alternatives to hospital care will require a higher proportion of services to be delivered by the private sector. The markets for these services are estimated to be worth around £20bn.”

In one example, the report describes primary and secondary care as “the next big opportunity for private providers”, stating that private sector involvement in community healthcare alone could rocket to around 20% – or £2bn – by 2020.

Although the report was welcomed by financial companies and the private sector, keen to make profits from healthcare, the report was poorly received by health care professionals in England, who condemned both the current Tory/Lib Dem Coalition and their New Labour predecessors for introducing privatisation into the English NHS, despite repeated denials.  

Prior to the last UK General Election, David Cameron promised voters that the NHS would be safe under a Conservative administration.  And although the Labour party now claims to oppose privatisation in the health service, proposals to privatise parts of the health service were first introduced under Tony Blair’s government.

Partial privatisation is already a reality in the NHS in England.  Virgin Care, one of Richard Branson’s companies, runs sexual health clinics in Teesside and Milton Keynes, dermatology procedures in Reading, and musculo-skeletal services in Hampshire.  Earlier this year Serco won a ground-breaking contract to provide community health services for NHS Suffolk in a £140m three-year deal.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Dr Clive Peedell, cochair of the NHS Consultants Association and member of the British Medical Association’s ruling council, claimed that government ministers had misled health professionals and the public alike with “their repeated denials of NHS privatisation when this is clearly part of their supply side economic policy to replace large swaths of public sector provision of services with private provision/supply. ”   

He added:  “The £20bn QIPP efficiency drive agenda introduced by New Labour started this process and the Health and Social Care Act is the legislative catalyst, which will drive the privatisation process much faster.”

SNP MSP Bob Doris has said that the “disastrous consequences”of the policy choices pursued by the UK Government would also be directly affecting Scotland, were it not for the fact that the Scotland’s NHS is entirely independent of its English counterpart.  

While the NHS in England is accountable to and funded by the UK Government at Westminster, NHS Scotland is run and managed in Scotland, and is funded by and is accountable to the Scottish Parliament.  The Scottish Government has strongly resisted any attempts to introduce privatisation into NHS Scotland, and the SNP administration has attempted to undo the PFI measures – described as privatisation by the back door – introduced during the previous Labour administration.

However the Scottish NHS may still be threatened indirectly by privatisation plans south of the Border, as it may create knock-on effects which could reduce the block grant which the Scottish Government receives under the Barnett Formula.  The Scottish Government fears that the Conservatives may wield Barnett consequentials in an attempt to penalise Scotland for remaining doggedly committed to the founding principle of the NHS, that it should be publicly owned and free at the point of use.

Commenting, Mr Doris, Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee, said:

“The wholesale dismantling of the NHS as a publicly-funded organisation is laid bare in this frightening report.

“We all know that it was Labour who first proposed the idea of GP commissioning – taken forward with zeal by the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition – but it’s clear that they’ve only just begun.

“Of course, it is only because the NHS in Scotland is already effectively independent that Scots are being shielded from the disastrous consequences of these decisions.

“Nevertheless, there will almost certainly be knock-on effects on Scotland’s block grant from this privatisation thanks to the Barnett formula – that’s why the only way for Scotland’s NHS to be safe is for all of the policy choices to be taken right here in Scotland.”