As 2013 begins, the Tory and Lib Dem plan to privatise the NHS is on schedule. The schedule is, you will remember, to sell-off so much of it by the next general election that whatever the next government do it will be impossible to get the NHS back again. Always remember that end game. If nothing else it helps to explain the mad rush to sell, and the massive cock-ups along the way.
At the moment 105 healthcare firms, including InHealth, Specsavers, and Virgin Care, have been granted “any qualified provider” status, providing a number of NHS services. Of course, each time a private firm ‘wins’ these pieces of work, the corresponding NHS service is lost. If enough NHS services are lost then that’s when you lose your hospital. You may be tempted to think that these private companies have been awarded contracts based on some excellent offer, but sadly that isn’t necessarily the case. After all, the government has told PCTs that they must put three services out to AQP. Perhaps the local NHS provider does it best? The government doesn’t care - privatisation is the agenda, and patients be damned.
You may be bored of me going on about this. Perhaps you think I’m overreacting? Well, before the Health and Social Care Act was passed I stated that it would actually kill people. Right now, at the start of 2013, we can be reasonably confident that it has killed at least two people so far. Firstly there’s Anita Mansi who died at a clinic offering NHS services but run by Carillion last year. As you can see from the article, it’s not only fragmentation of care that results from a number of different providers, but the profit motive which, in this case, meant that Carillion didn’t bother buying enough ventilators. If Anita Mansi had been in an NHS hospital offering a large number of services, the chances of equipment and trained staff being available would have been much, much higher. This is obvious, yet the whole drive of the Coalition reforms is to split services across a large number of ‘suppliers’. Will they all have the equipment and/or staff that are required in unusual circumstances? No.
It’s not just clinical services, of course. Harmoni, the private company that runs out-of-hours GP cover for 8 million people, has faced criticism after a seven week old baby died due to long waits and minimal service. Again, the incentive for Harmoni is to reduce cover to a the minimum level they contractually can. Why? The less is costs them the more they can pocket and give to their shareholders.
Nobody is arguing that profit has a place in the world. However, consider how profits are made in NHS privatisation. The private provider pretty much has to say they’ll supply the service for less than the NHS provider to win the contract. How do you outbid an offer where no profit is made and still make a profit for your shareholders? You cut something. That something is almost always staff, whether in numbers or training. Harmoni did both, and Carillion did it by not buying the equipment they might need. Of course, they had everything they had to have to win the work, but when profit is your motivation, why would you buy more?
I will leave you with the following piece of advice. Next time you are referred by your GP for anything, always choose the NHS provider. You may be spun a yarn about waiting lists (although there is rarely much in it), but your NHS provider will be in a large hospital with pretty much every piece of medical equipment going, and experts in pretty much anything that might go wrong, right there in the same building. Not only that, but you’ll be helping to keep our NHS in public hands. That advice may just save your life.