A SERIES of announcements by health secretary Alan Milburn over the holiday period signals a major new government drive to privatise the NHS. If New Labour's plans go ahead private firms could take over the running of NHS hospitals.
Just before Christmas Milburn announced that eight private firms are to be allowed to bid to take over the management of NHS hospitals that the government dubs as 'failing'.
The move was slammed by former New Labour health secretary Frank Dobson. 'It's the beginning of the slippery slope,' he said. 'It is shameful that the government, a Labour government, is proposing to hand over the management of some NHS hospitals to the private sector.'
The government has already lined up three hospital groups for possible private takeover. They are the United Bristol Healthcare Trust, Bath's Royal United Hospital and the Good Hope Hospital in Birmingham. Three of Britain's biggest private hospital firms are in the running to take over NHS hospitals: Bupa, BMI and Capio.
The other five private firms that can join the bidding are Interhealth Canada, Hospitalia activHealth from Germany, and the Serco, Secta and Quo health service and consultancy firms. Milburn also announced a major extension of private treatment within the NHS. He had already announced plans to set up a network of private clinics aimed at clearing NHS waiting lists.
The clinics will be built and run by private firms, though some could be within existing NHS facilities. The government had insisted that the clinics would only treat NHS cases. That was a lie. The clinics will now be allowed to treat private patients, effectively signalling a major expansion of 'pay beds' within the NHS. It will mean public money will act as a subsidy to private firms operating under the cover of the NHS.
'I just do not feel that this sort of thing is compatible with what the Labour Party has historically stood for,' was the angry reaction of David Hinchcliffe, the Labour chair of the parliamentary select committee on health. Health unions also slammed the plans.
GMB union leader John Edmonds said, 'The government should be using its extra investment to improve NHS services rather than increasing private company profits.'