NHS Privatisation: Fact vs Fiction

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FICTION: The Tories will not privatise the NHS

Speaking in front of the Health and Social Care Committee in January this year, and responding to questions on whether new Integrated care provider (ICP) contracts will be managed by public NHS bodies or by private providers, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (pictured right) said:

“I am going to be much more concrete. There is no privatisation of the NHS on my watch, and the integrated care contracts will go to public sector bodies to deliver the NHS in public hands.”

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FACT: Hancock’s half truth

Matt Hancock before and after this statement has personally endorsed the privately-run ‘GP at Hand’ service that is undermining general practice in North West London, and spreading across the country. The online service targets younger, fitter tech-savvy patients, leaving regular GPs with fewer resources to deal with older, more complex and costly patients.

And with an estimated 50% of all NHS dentists closed to new patients because of this government’s funding constraints, Hancock has also backed the private firm MyDentist which exploits the shortage of NHS cover. Hancock claimed the company “play a really important role in delivering a good service to keep our nation’s teeth strong.”

Within weeks of Hancock’s “no privatisation” pledge more news emerged of privatisation in the pipeline, including a massive £3 billion 20-year pathology contract in the south east and London, set to go to a privately-led consortium, with indications that most of the big, new pathology networks will also offer rich pickings to private companies.

In March news broke of the plan being driven by NHS England to privatise PET-CT scanning services for cancer patients in Oxfordshire and ‘Thames Valley’ – with ten similar contracts lined up across the country, again handing lucrative deals to private companies.

Unreliable contractors

Throughout the year commissioners at local level have continued to hand contracts for a wide range of services including patient transport services, diabetic eye care, GP practice administration, elective surgery, community health care, and of course mental health care to private companies, many of them unreliable.

Even emergency ambulance services have been entrusted to private companies – although one of the biggest, SSG UK Specialist Ambulance Support Ltd, who provided 999 emergency and non-emergency transportation for the NHS, was put into administration in September.

In April the Labour party released data showing 21 NHS contracts worth £127m were currently out to tender - 19 of which had been put out after Hancock’s assurance to the Committee.

In July the Department of Health and Social Care’s Annual report for 2018-19 revealed that the amount of NHS money going to private healthcare firms has reached unprecedented levels, with a record total of £9.2bn going to private providers such as Virgin Care, the Priory mental health group, and private hospital chains.

This was 14% higher than the £8.1bn that went to profit-driven healthcare companies in 2014-15 and £410m more than the £8.77bn they received in 2017-18.

Maybe what Hancock meant to say was he won’t be watching the privatisation taking shape. It is certainly forging ahead, regardless of his promise.

  • Figures from the NHS Support Federation show that since the 2012 Health and Social Care Act took effect in 2013 over £25bn worth of NHS contracts have been advertised – and nearly 40% of them have been won by the private sector.

This article was originally published in Health Campaign's Together's 8-page election special newspaper. You can purchase hard copies in its online shop

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