This was written for our local election campaign, but it will probably apply just as much to your area.
The privatisation of the NHS
The demise of the National Health Service this week will have taken many by surprise, since it was presented by the government merely as a re-organisation – the handing over of control to the GPs’ Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
Hidden in the small print, however, and largely unreported by the media, ‘Section 75’ of the new rules includes a requirement to put out NHS services to competitive tender. Thus, when the new legislation came fully into force on 1st April, the NHS ceased to be a service provided by the state, and started instead the process of becoming a service paid for by the state, but provided by such private providers as have won the various contracts. This is not denationalisation’ (as with BT, gas etc. in the 1980s) but ‘marketisation’ – the procurement of government contracts by private companies.
Already, £250million-worth of contracts have been given to private companies; it is estimated that, in the coming year, another £750million of contracts will be similarly outsourced. It has been a small scandal that some GPs have been caught awarding contracts to companies in which they have a financial interest. And it is not an accident that, just as the inexperienced GPs’ CCGs are taking over commissioning, multinational corporations (with their slick negotiation lawyers) have been allowed to bid for contracts; the danger is that they will make over-advantageous deals (as with some of the PFI deals, which are bankrupting some hospitals).
From the user’s point of view, our health services may seem little changed. We are certainly not suddenly going to have to start paying for treatment, and the full range of provision will remain. The new providers all operate under the NHS logo, so we won’t know whether it is a private company or the old NHS supplying our medical care. But, behind the scenes, the provider of our medical services will likely have changed from the state (doing it for civic duty), to a business corporation (manipulating it for profit; they are going to make a fortune out of our ill-health in the coming years).
There is little that we, as ordinary people, can do about this. The Labour Party has promised to repeal the legislation but, by 2015, many of the profitable bits of the NHS will already have been sold off and lost.
There are just two positives.
Firstly, there is an organisation being set up in County Durham called ‘Healthwatch Durham’, which will promote the needs and the views of users; it is based in Aycliffe Business Park and it is this organisation, after the election, with which I would wish the Town Council to get involved. Great Aycliffe Town Council has been ahead of the game on this; it already has a representative on the local Health and Wellbeing Partnership Network
Secondly, Durham County Council has set up a ‘Health and Wellbeing Board’ which will work with the local CCG on the commissioning process. In our new ‘marketised’ NHS, well-written contracts will be our first line of defence against cut-price care, and it is vital that the ‘Health and Wellbeing Board’ is an effective body.
This is just one more reason that the elections this May are of vital importance to us as a community. So when your candidates knock your door, ask them how they think the Council should engage with the NHS changes.
(Legally-required attribution: published and promoted by John D Clare on behalf of John D Clare.)