By Yuri Prasad
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2787

Labour welcomes private sector vultures into health services

The policy is a break from the position of recent years
Issue 2787
A group of healthworkers and their supporters deliver a petition with 400,000 names to "Save our NHS"

Private sector involvement in the NHS has always been contested (38 Degrees on Flickr)

Labour’s shadow health secretary said on Friday that he would not “shirk” from using hated private sector health firms to reduce NHS waiting lists.
 
Wes Streeting told the BBC the strategy had proved “effective” when his party was last in power. In a bid to soften the blow, Streeting said that the blame for needing the option lay with Tory governments that have “run down the NHS”.
 
But his statement marked a clear departure for Labour from the position under both Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband. They had focused their health service campaigning on protecting the health service from further privatisation.
 
The private sector doesn’t “help” the NHS by offering its services, because it has very few skilled medical staff of its own. Instead, it relies on short-term poaching of doctors and nurses that work and train in the NHS. That means almost every service provided by private health firms comes at the cost of staff lost to our health service.
 
And, where it provides services, the private sector cherry picks the easiest, most profitable treatments, leaving the NHS with all the difficult jobs.
 
During the pandemic, private sector vulture firms tried to present themselves as “additional capacity” to the NHS. But research from the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI) blows that myth apart.
 
In its report, For Whose Benefit?, the CHPI shows that almost no Covid patients were treated in the private sector, and that NHS funded treatment in the private sector fell significantly.
 
In total private hospitals delivered 0.08 percent of Covid care. The NHS paid out huge sums to the private health care firms to provide extra capacity but all that did was reduce the cash available to spend on public health care, thereby pushing up waiting lists.
 
As the CHPI notes, “Meanwhile, the 26 private hospital companies benefited significantly from the deal.
“[The] government-backed guarantee of their operating costs protected the sector from losses caused by the pandemic,” it wrote.
 
“Private healthcare was allowed to continue even when the NHS was under the greatest strain and the sector is now in a position to capitalise on the pent-up demand for healthcare.”
 
The CHPI estimates the cost to the NHS of this “private sector capacity” as between £2 and £5 billion.
Streeting wants to take us back to the days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Then, Labour governments talked continually of involving the private sector in the NHS because of its alleged skills and experience.
 
The two Labour leaders pushed the widely-despised Private Finance Initiative as means of building new hospitals. But it soon became clear that the NHS would be forced to make huge payments to vulture construction firms for generations to come.
 
And, they unleashed the market inside the health service, which forced the contracting out of whole services to the private sector. These firms were safe in the knowledge that should anything go wrong with their largely routine treatments, the NHS would be there to pick up the pieces.
 
That Streeting wants to shore-up the private sector, and is using pandemic-driven waiting lists as an excuse, should sound a warning to everyone who cares about the NHS.

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