The recent news that Virgin Care has been awarded £2 billion worth of NHS contracts over the past 5 years will come as no surprise to those, like me, who have lamented the largely unheralded encroachment of the private sector into NHS care.
Like a particularly furtive cancer, private providers have sneaked their tendrils everywhere and are gradually developing a grip on the supposedly state controlled service, which once established you can be sure they won’t release.
Cancer is a perfect analogy for private sector creep, as like a malignancy, private providers began by taking over ‘less essential’ services like hospital car parking, catering and cleaning. Similarly, like an early cancer, chopping it out at this early stage would have had minimal impact on the rest of the NHS. A bit like lopping off a bowel polyp or suspicious looking skin mole.
The next stage is encroachment into more important areas such as child vaccines, community services and prison health care, the stage we have reached now. Although still reversible, like a patient having a loop of bowel excised, there will be some permanent consequences.
A palliative dose of radiotherapy and TLC will soon be the only treatment left
Left untreated for much longer though and the private provider cancer will continue to spread to the most important parts of the health service such as emergency care, obstetrics, paediatrics and surgery – and then it will be too late. A palliative dose of radiotherapy and TLC will be the only treatment left, as we watch the NHS signs removed and replaced by the logos of multinationals on our healthcare establishments.
Does this really matter people ask? As long as patients are getting treated, who really cares who is providing the care as long as it is provided?
Well, yes, it does matter. The private sector and cancer share two other important goals in common: growth and domination. Left unchecked neither will stop until it has achieved total control of its host. Let’s not forget, the NHS was established so that the poor no longer had to pay private hospitals and doctors individually for their care.
The corporate sector might promise the world but we should remember, behind all the gloss and promise it has only one ultimate aim – to make money for its shareholders. Is this the ethic that should be underpinning the decision making of those in charge of a public-funded health service?
Dr David Turner is a GP in north-west London