Campaigners will gather outside the Westminster parliament later today to protest as MPs are expected to vote through radical plans to ‘’open the floodgates ‘’ for more privatisation of the NHS in England.
The UK government wants to widen the involvement of private companies in the running of the health service south of the Border. The move forms the basis of the Conservatives’ Heath and Care Bill being voted on in the Commons tonight.
The union Unite says the government has used the pandemic as a ‘’smokescreen to push through’’ the legislation ‘’that will open up the floodgates for more privatisation’’.
The bill replaces changes to the NHS structure implemented by the government of David Cameron in 2012 and widely regarded as disastrous. But the new bill – dubbed by critics as the corporate takeover bill – allows representatives from private health companies to sit on new Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) alongside NHS clinicians and council public health leaders.
It also allows NHS contracts to be awarded without going out to tender and passes control of some aspects of heath services and NHS England directly to the Westminster health secretary, currently Sajid Javid.
You don’t have to look very far back in recent history to find worrying aspects of politicians’ involvement in NHS contacts.
In June the High Court of Justice in England ruled that Michael Gove had broken the law when the Cabinet Office gave a £560,000 COVID contract to a business with which he had “personal connections”.
Justice O’Farrell found that the Cabinet Office’s contract with PR firm Public First was “unlawful” and “gave rise to apparent bias”. The company was run by close allies of Gove and the prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.
Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham has said this will be used to further run down the NHS and to bring in more privatisation by the back door
Unite have called the UK government’s latest move an “NHS privatisation bill” and its general secretary Sharon Graham has said it will be “used to further run down the NHS and to bring in more privatisation by the back door’’.
Jacalyn Williams, national officer for health at Unite, claimed: “The government’s new Health and Care Bill is a Trojan horse for more cuts and cronyism and is a licence for politicians to run down and sell off our NHS.”
She added: ‘Ministers’ appetites for further NHs privatisation are undiminished and it is clear that they are cynically using the continuing pandemic as a smokescreen for accelerating NHS privatisation.’’
David Cameron’s 2012 reforms had emphasised competition between areas of health and social case and saw an increase in private firms winning tenders to provide NHS services.
The new bill continues to encourage NHS services to be farmed out to private firms but dispenses with the need for tenders in the process. Critics say one result of that might be that existing outsourced work carried out by the private sector is simply rolled over, entrenching the private sector’s role.
The British Medical Association has warned the new rules ‘’allow contracts to be awarded to private providers without proper scrutiny or transparency’’.
Conservative denials that more privatisation of the NHS is their ultimate goal ring hollow in the face of the facts. In January they voted against an amendment in their trade bill which would have explicitly protected the NHS from trade deals through a commitment to back a ‘’comprehensively, publicly funded health service, free at the point of delivery’’.
This Conservative government has already shown itself to be an enemy of devolution, working to reduce the powers of the Scottish parliament rather than extend them
While the Health and Care Bill refers only to the NHS in England there is no guarantee that the Westminster government will not insist the Scottish NHS is included in any trade deal they make with, for example, American private health firms.
This Conservative government has already shown itself to be an enemy of devolution, working to reduce the powers of the Scottish parliament rather than extend them in the manner promised in the first independence campaign in 2014.
There is no way it would allow the devolution settlement to interfere with the potential to make profits from NHS services.
The UK government’s privatisation ambition won’t be any cheaper than the current bill for NHS services. If fact it’s almost certain to be more expensive once you factor in the profits that would be needed to tempt private companies to become involve in the first place.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) revealed in September 2019 that the full costs of PFI contracts in the NHS would amount to £80bn by the time they are paid off in return for just £13bn of initial investment.