By Martin Kelly
The Labour and the Conservative parties have traded accusations over the speed of privatisation south of the border.
In a speech yesterday, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for contracts between English hospitals and the private sector to be put on hold until after the next general election.
Speaking in Manchester, Mr Burnham called for a pause and criticised Prime Minister David Cameron: “On his watch, NHS privatisation is being forced through at pace and scale,” he said.
The Labour MP said analysis carried out by Labour showed,”… that NHS forced privatisation is entering new territory and becoming harder to reverse.”
However the Conservative party hit back and pointed out that privatisation of the English NHS doubled in the last four years of Labour’s term in office.
“Andy Burnham himself signed off the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital during Labour’s final year so it is pure political posturing to try to interfere with doctors making the best clinical judgements for patients.” said a coalition spokesman.
Private companies, including Virgin Care and Care UK, received more than £10bn of public money last year from private contract work in the English NHS.
The speech from Mr Burnham has been seized on by pro-independence group NHS for Yes, which said the speech from the Labour MP is proof that both Labour and the Conservatives have a similar privatisation agenda for the NHS.
Founder member of NHS for Yes, Dr Willie Wilson said: “This speech from Andy Burnham is confirmation that Westminster Labour, and Mr Burnham in particular, are all over the place on health.
“It was Tony Blair who ramped up the old Thatcher idea of privatisation, so they’ve had ten years to realise that a disaster is unfolding in the English NHS. Where was he when they passed the Health & Social Care Act in 2012?”
In a reference to an interview Mr Burnham had given to Holyrood magazine in which the Labour MP had appeared to call for the Scottish NHS to be absorbed into a pan-UK health system, Dr Wilson added:
“Only last year Burnham told Holyrood magazine, ‘Let’s get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales’.
“So the people of Scotland should beware – a No vote in September puts NHS Scotland at grave risk from Tories and Labour alike.”
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 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.”
The move towards privatisation in the NHS south of the border, which was initiated by the previous Labour Government, means that for some conditions one in five patients are now seen by private firms.
In 2012 a report showed that the private sector was responsible for 17% of NHS hip replacements in England, 17% of NHS hernia operations in England and were involved in thousands of other procedures.
In 2006/07, NHS outpatient data indicated 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.
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’. In the document Labour gave more power to GPs over how English NHS cash was spent.
They 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.”
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.