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Hancock’s NHS plans would see the ramping up of privatisation on a scale we’ve never seen before – Pascale Robinson, We Own It.

” Newspaper headlines have regurgitated the government line that somehow Matt Hancock’s latest disaster plan will lead to reductions in the involvement of the private sector in the health service. This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Pascale Robinson.

Pascale Robinson, We Own It.

As John Rees recently described, the word ‘reform’ used to refer to a process of things getting better. But now whenever the word ‘reform’ is used to describe government policy with regards to the NHS, things are set to get a lot, lot worse. 

This was true of ‘reforms’ of the 1990s which introduced the internal market into the health service. It was true of ‘reforms’ in the coalition government’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act. And it’s certainly true of the current government’s recently announced plans to ‘reform’ the NHS outlined in its White Paper. 

You wouldn’t know that from looking at much of the reporting we’ve seen so far. Newspaper headlines and broadcaster bulletins have regurgitated the government line that somehow Matt Hancock’s latest disaster plan will lead to reductions in the involvement of the private sector in the health service. This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In actuality, the White Paper – if implemented – would see the ramping up of privatisation on a scale we’ve never seen before. It will see more of the shocking – and frankly crooked – practices we’ve seen during the pandemic, with contracts being handed out to the mates of the Tory Party without a proper tendering process. And it will see private companies not only involved in delivering services, but also in making decisions on how NHS funds are spent. 

Central to the proposals is the plan to scrap the requirements in Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act. This is the part of the legislation which forces NHS clinical surgeries to undergo a competitive tendering process. In and of itself, this is a rotten, disgraceful practice forced upon our health service, which accelerates privatisation and mandates the outsourcing of service provision. It also further implements the purchaser-provider split that morphs the NHS into a market wastes precious time on processes of contracting. Ending it and replacing these rules with the reinstatement of the NHS as a fully public service would be welcome – and is the direction of travel the overwhelming majority of the British public want to see. 

However, the Tories aren’t proposing to do that. Rather, they are planning on removing the requirement to competitively tender services. Gone would be a transparent process by which private companies can access the health service. In its place would be contracts doled out  to friends of the Tory party in the private healthcare industry on a scale even bigger than we’ve seen during the Covid crisis. Even NHS England’s ‘Health Systems Support Framework’ has over 20 American healthcare companies on it, ready to get contracts and be welcomed as a key ‘provider’ in our nhs.

As expected, the Tories have misdiagnosed the problem. They’ve decided that transparency and process of private involvement in the health service is the problem, rather than that private involvement altogether. This government’s dogged obsession with the rancid ideology of privatisation, combined with their commitment to ensuring public accountability is whittled away knows no bounds.

This can be seen clearly in other ways throughout the proposals – not least in the establishment of new models of commissioning and delivering care. The government is proposing a move towards ‘Integrated Care Systems’ – an opaquely titled structure which is nominally designed to bring together all the key players in public health delivery round a table to make the health service operate more smoothly. 

The problem of course is that with our NHS being increasingly privatised, one of those ‘key players’ is the private sector. If implemented, the proposals would see private companies sitting on the boards of Integrated Care Systems, deciding where money goes in the health service. Think Deloitte sitting round the table carving out health budgets. Think Serco choosing where to spend money. Think Richard Branson and Virgin Care smiling away while they decide what your health service should look like. 

All of this is waiting round the corner if the government gets its way. And we’re already seeing what the results could be. Just last week, Centene – a US health insurance giant – took over 49 NHS GP practices in London. This kind of brazen privatisation is happening right now. But if these so-called reforms are introduced, we’ll be seeing it on steroids. 

That’s why health campaigners are coming together to demand these dangerous and damaging plans are stopped. You can help. As a first step, sign the petition to stop Matt Hancock’s private takeover of the NHS now.

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