Wednesday 13 November 2019

Health v Wealth

The privatisation of the NHS is not something to be feared in the future. It is already happening.

Margaret Thatcher denationalised many industries, but the popularity of the NHS meant that the privateers would need to move more stealthily. But move they would.

In 1986 hospital cleaning services were privatised followed soon after by new-builds, catering and diagnostics. Two years later Tory MPs Oliver Letwin and John Redwood published “Ideas for Radical Reform of the NHS” which advocated encouraging further joint ventures with the private sector and the introduction of fees.

Tony Blair’s 1997 National Health Service Act adopted Letwin/Redwood’s ideas, by turning NHS hospitals into trusts, and encouraging them to operate as commercial businesses.

One GP described these changes as “how to get turkeys not only voting for Christmas, but also plucking, basting and putting themselves into the oven.”

Private companies have been increasingly encouraged to franchise for NHS services, with the UK divided into 44 ‘footprint’ areas encouraged to amalgamate hospitals and shrink specialist units. 

This country’s bed-to-patient ratio is today one of the lowest in any developed country. A&E units have been cut from 144 (five years ago) to about 50 today. At least 1000 GP practices have closed in the last five years and patients are encouraged to use privately owned app consultancies. The result is that GPs are merging their practices into competitive organisations, open to takeover by private companies such as Virgin Healthcare.

The deliberate blurring of the distinction between public and private healthcare, the rationing of non-urgent operations as well as increased waiting times, encourages a move to private treatment. And how many of you knew that The Practice Group, the UK’s largest GP network, is owned by US company Centene.

A health service with primary loyalty to shareholders makes them more costly than state-funded services. John Furse, writing in The London Review of Books, estimates that private involvement in healthcare adds at least £9 billion a year to the NHS budget with the result that today the independent sector accounts for £13.7 billion of NHS spend.

We are running out of time to save the NHS and without a Corbyn-led Labour government we can kiss goodbye to Aneurin Bevan’s principle of “healthcare free at the point of delivery based on need, not wealth.”


This article can be read alongside my earlier pieces on NHS privateers here and here  



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