It emerged last week that NHS England bosses threatened to sue one of its own trusts for libel if it publicly raised concerns over a privatisation plan in Oxfordshire.
Some 21 contracts in NHS England worth £127 million are currently out to tender, according to House of Commons Library research by the Labour Party.
One of the biggest contracts up for grabs is worth £91 million—to run the NHS 111/Clinical Assessment Service in the south east of England.
The hated Health and Social Care Act 2012 forces NHS England to put out to tender any contracts worth more than £650,000.
This has seen private firms, such as Virgin Care, increase their share of NHS contracts. And “independent sector providers”, such as charities and social enterprises, took some £8 billion in 2017/18—a 50 percent increase since 2009/10.
The Tories have supported charities running some NHS services in order to dress up their privatisation drive. This is a stepping stone to larger private companies taking over the contracts down the line.
The absurdities of this process were shown up by a scandal over the cancer service in hospitals in Oxfordshire.
NHS England handled the outsourcing process which handed a cancer scanning service to private company InHealth.
Doctors warned that the plan would damage patients’ health. NHS England then tried to stop Oxford University hospitals NHS trust opposing its decision to let a private firm take charge of cancer scanning.
In a letter, lawyers for NHS England said the trust’s concerns, which were shared by doctors, MPs and cancer patients, amounted to defamation.
The trust's chief executive, Bruno Holthof, was rung by the NHS England chairman at the time, Sir Malcolm Grant, to warn the trust not to mount a legal challenge to the switch to a contract with InHealth.
Outrage forced the NHS England bosses to say that the cancer scanners will remain at Churchill Hospital in Oxford and will be operated by NHS staff. Yet it said that InHealth would still be given the contract to run its service.
Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care have now been called in to review the tendering process.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth pledged to reverse privatisation at the Health Campaigns Together AGM last Saturday. “Labour will bring an end to this profiteering in our NHS and restore our health service to public hands,” he said.
“Tory privatisation will be killed stone dead under a Labour government. We’ll bring forward the necessary legislation to reverse the Health and Social Care Act and reinstate a publicly provided NHS in our first Queen’s Speech.”
But Labour’s manifesto at the last general election only promised to make the NHS the “preferred provider” in contracts. And the Tories can inflict more damage before a Labour government gets into office.
There has to be action now—including by the unions—to stop the Tories’ cuts and privatisation, not waiting for a general election.