Scottish Government should address PFI contracts to help NHS, claims academic

86
3518

By G.A.Ponsonby

A respected academic has claimed that addressing overpriced PFI contracts would be a better way to protect front line NHS services than freezing wages and shrinking the workforce.

Professor Allyson Pollock, who is a health economist at Queen Mary University in London, was responding to a survey that indicated nurses were concerned about their future.

By G.A.Ponsonby

A respected academic has claimed that addressing overpriced PFI contracts would be a better way to protect front line NHS services than freezing wages and shrinking the workforce.

Professor Allyson Pollock, who is a health economist at Queen Mary University in London, was responding to a survey that indicated nurses were concerned about their future.

Professor Pollock said the findings of the survey were “worrying and widespread” and that the concerns of Scottish nurses who took part in the survey were shared by nurses in England where there are major reductions in services.

Health boards, said the Professor, were tackling staff wages and numbers because that is the area in which they can readily reduce costs.  However according to Professor Pollock the real cause of the pressure on the NHS, both in Scotland and in England, are PFI charges which are indexed to inflation together with the rising cost of pharmaceuticals.

Professor Pollock said funding problems could be addressed by “opening … and renegotiating” the PFI contracts and taking “a long hard look” at pharmaceuticals and technologies instead of focussing on redundancies and staff cuts.

Professor Pollock claimed that quality of care and access to services was directly linked to the number of nurses and even with no compulsory redundancies – as pledged by the SNP – the falling numbers could result in services being affected.

The academic said: “If you really are concerned about maintaining access and quality of care then staff should be one of the last areas you focus on … these will be relatively minor cost savings when compared to the really big areas such as PFI and pharmaceutical vaccines and technologies.”

Professor Pollack added:

“PFI costs and pharmaceutical costs rise above NHS pay and prices so they are hugely inflationary and they take a big chunk of money out of an NHS budget that’s standing relatively still.”

PFI was and is Labour’s preferred method of funding for building hospitals and schools.  The issue has seen Labour and the SNP clash after the Nationalists ruled it out as a funding mechanism in 2007 due to high costs.

The Health Secretary in England has warned that the NHS south of the border is in danger of collapse because of the costs of paying PFI contracts negotiated by the last Labour government.  Experts have described the situation as a recipe for long term disaster.

Recently it emerged that some PFI contracts were so lucrative that private equity firms were now acquiring them and relocating them offshore in order to avoid paying tax on the profits, some contracts are considered so lucrative that they are traded as though they were currencies.

According to Dexter Whitfield who is director of the European Services Strategy Unit, the trading in PFI contracts started in 1998, but really took off in 2003 and continued – growing right through the financial crisis.  According to Mr Whitfield there is now a large secondary market dealing exclusively in PFI contracts.

Last week BBC Alba broadcast results of an investigation into PFI contracts negotiated by the last Scottish Labour/LibDem administration.  The investigation revealed some contracts contained land leases that ran for a century and beyond.