Last week it was reported that, in a deal worth £780 million, the NHS had agreed to the largest ever privatisation of its services.
Under the deal, 11 private companies will provide a range of services, including scans, x-rays and even heart surgery.
It’s a scandal not just because it’s the most recent and flagrant example of the Tory/Lib Dem government’s increased privatisation of vital NHS services, without public consent and contrary to the public’s wishes.
It has also emerged that the 11 companies named in last week’s reports included some pretty shady operators. For example, Vanguard, the winner of a £160 million contract to provide operations in mobile units, is facing legal action stemming from eye surgeries carried out at Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset last year.
It’s alleged that some patients suffered burns while others were left with metal fragments in their eyes. One even claimed to have gone blind.
It’s an extreme example of course. But the basic point that privatisation opens up a Pandora’s box of potential problems remains valid nonetheless.
The fact is, we value the NHS in no small part because we trust that when we’re ill or hurt, the doctors and nurses who treat us will be doing so out of a genuine desire to help people and without a profit motive muddying the waters.
But this government has gone full steam ahead with privatisation of the NHS. Earlier this year it was revealed that NHS spending on private contractors has increased by 60% under this government, to £6.55 billion last year.
Up and down the country vital services are being put out to open tender and transferred to the private sector. When David Cameron promised no privatisation of the NHS on his watch, he was clearly not being honest with the public.
Labour is committed to repealing the 2011 Health and Social Care Act, which put profits before patients, and raise a £2.5 billion fund to breathe new life into the NHS.
This will help pay for 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more home care workers and 3,000 more midwives.
A Labour government would also champion a new emphasis on whole person care, building services around patients based on the full range of their needs. It’s a model that’s been pioneered in Islington – where the local authority works with Whittington Health to send people out to deliver social care in the community – and it’s now serving as a model for national policy.
At a time of unprecedented challenges caused by sweeping cuts to its budget, Islington met the challenge of delivering a top quality health and social care service that was praised by Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow minister for care services, as an “excellent” model.
To remain as a viable, high quality public service in the 21st century, the NHS needs a proper, well thought through and fully funded plan, based on individual patients’ needs, and that is what Labour is offering.
Compare this to a Tory/Lib Dem government that has steadily chipped away at the foundations of the NHS through increased privatisation, while aspiring to reduce public spending to levels not seen since the 1930s (before therewas an NHS) and the choice voters are facing is clear.