The Government has denied that it is ‘privatisating’ healthcare in England, in response to a unions’ campaign damning the Coalition’s NHS reforms.
In a statement, published on the Department of Health website on Thursday (24 July), ministers stated that their reforms are ‘not about privatisation, but about… putting clinicians, rather than politicians, in control of healthcare’.
The Unite union has campaigned since last year and had staged a 55,000-strong rally in Manchester during the annual Conservative Party conference, and accused the Government of outsourcing £7bn worth of NHS contracts to the private sector over the last three years at a greater cost to the taxpayer than if the contracts had been kept with NHS providers.
It comes as Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, was due to make a speech on Tuesday where he would call for a ‘halt’ to the NHS privatisation at least until next year’s general election.
He will say: ‘Contracts are being signed that will run for the five years of the next parliament, and beyond. This is not acceptable. Contracts like this will tie the hands of the next Government in a crucial area of public policy. But, even worse, they are being signed without a mandate from the public. The Prime Minister was not up front about these plans at the last election. He needs to be reminded that he has never been given the permission of the public to put the NHS up for sale in this way.’
However the DH has now hit back at such claims, stating that its ‘modernisation’ of the NHS is ‘necessary, in patients’ interests and is the right thing to do to secure the NHS for future generations’.
The DH said: ‘Ministers have stated that the Government’s reforms are not about privatisation, but about placing the financial power to change health services in the hands of those NHS professionals whom the public trust most, and putting clinicians, rather than politicians, in control of healthcare.’
‘The principles the NHS was founded on will remain as important in the future as they were when the NHS was created: of healthcare free at the point of use, funded from general taxation and available to all based on need rather than the ability to pay. Clinical services will continue to be available on the basis of need, as they are now.’
‘One of the main benefits of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 will be the reduction in administration costs that it delivers, and ministers expect savings to far outstrip the cost of the reforms. The department estimates that savings will total £6.5 billion by next year, all of which will have been re-invested in patient care.’
But Unite have hit back, saying: ‘Despite the Government’s denials, Unite believes that the privatisation of our NHS is increasing. The Health and Social Care Act (2012) has unleashed chaos into the health service. A full competitive market is trampling on cooperation and fragmenting service delivery, paving the way for private companies to cherry pick the most profitable treatments.’
‘In just three years £7bn of new NHS contracts have flooded the private health care market– a figure set to soar to £20bn in the next few years.’
Listing the reasons why it opposes the NHS reforms brought in 1 April last year, bringing with it the section 75 clause forcing commissioners to put services out to competitive tender, Unite said ‘it costs more, service quality decreases and patients suffer, it creates health inequalities, it fragments services [and] leads to a race to the bottom in staff terms and conditions’.
It comes as last week, DH annual accounts revealed that spend on buying healthcare services from non-NHS providers topped £10bn for the first time in 2013/14, while spending on GP services reduced 2.3%. Separately to the Unite initiative, BMA and RCGP are both running campaigns to increase spending on GP services as a total of NHS spending, and Pulse has launched an e-petition for the Government to stop GP practice closures.