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Sell off must be stopped

Selling off £12bn in NHS services is a national scandal
Hajera Blagg, Friday, April 24th, 2015


GP surgeries run by the private sector underperform compared to NHS-run surgeries on nearly all counts, a new study released today (April 24) has found.
It’s only the latest in a growing mountain of evidence demonstrating that NHS privatisation is harmful for all involved – patients, staff and taxpayers.
Higher and higher doses of privatisation for the NHS is just what the Tories have planned, should they emerge victorious on May 8, as another recent survey – and indeed their own manifesto – has made clear.
But what exactly is wrong with continued privatisation of the health service? UniteLive investigates.
Wasted  money
The Tories claim to be the party of public spending restraint but the market experiment of the health service jumpstarted by their health and social care act of 2012 has only turbo-charged the criminal swindling of taxpayer money.
“Evidence from around the world will tell you that market-based healthcare systems cost more – not less – than national systems like the NHS,” claimed shadow health secretary Andy Burnham at a recent healthcare debate.
But does this claim stack up?
According to the New Economics Foundation, costs per head in healthcare systems where the private sector dominates, as in the United States, are much higher than in countries with nationalised systems.
The NEF study notes that in 2008, the United States spent nearly $7,000 per person on healthcare. In the UK that same year, this figure was half as much.
The Centre for Health and the Public Interest reports that the cost of administering the market in the NHS in England alone is £4.5bn a year. And that’s a conservative estimate, with one estimate being as high as £30bn.
Before Thatcher introduced the internal market to the NHS, administrative costs were only 5 per cent of the total NHS budget, but have skyrocketed to 15 per cent now.
These administrative costs – paid for by the taxpayer – don’t include the billions wasted on other market features thrust on the NHS by the coalition government, such as PFI debt, which now runs into the hundreds of billions.
Patient choice, patient outcomes
The Tories rushed through privatisation of the NHS with their landmark piece of legislation, the health and social care act of 2012, under the aegis of “patient choice”, suggesting that market competition will, in the end, make the service better for patients.
Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown argues, however, that “patient choice” was a smokescreen for simply bringing in private companies to begin digging for profit.
“[Then health secretary] Lansley presented the act as a way to give patients choice,” he said. “But patient choice is in no way at all dependent on giving opportunities to hundreds of private organisations to bid on and run services.”
The billions that NHS privatisation is costing the taxpayer may, some would argue, be worth it if private providers of health services actually improve patient outcomes.
But as the study on GP services published today has shown, the opposite is true – private providers, in their endless quests for profits, cut corners so that, in the end, the service suffers.
Another review of 33 studies assessing the impact of outsourcing on the delivery of NHS services found negative impacts in 18 studies.
It’s worth noting, too, that because private providers lack transparency and aren’t required to release as much performance data as NHS providers, it’s impossible to comprehensively assess just how better or worse patients fare with privatised services.
Patient choice, then, becomes patients being left in the dark, unable to make the right choice as private providers hide their performance data.
Under pressure
Rachael Maskell, a prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour in York Central believes privatisation is at the root of the intense pressures the health service is under now, especially in A & E.
“Privatisation of GP services leading to poor out of hours cover has exacerbated the crisis, but we didn’t need a crystal ball to see it coming,” she noted. “Serco in Cornwall attempted to run the service with only one GP on call to cover the entire county.
“It is no wonder that people dial 999 – a number they trust, or go to A&E themselves. This intense demand placed on doctors, nurses and NHS staff generally is intolerable.
“It’s a depressing litany of mismanagement, with funding cuts to ambulance services along with the private sector stripping out the high volume, low risk work to make easy profits leaving intensive care and A&E to face intense demand,” she added.
Maskell highlights one of the most harmful effects of privatisation in the NHS – cherry-picking contracts, on which Labour has committed a decisive clampdown.
Only the beginning
Privatisation of the NHS is still in its early stages but has accelerated enormously under the coalition government.
It’s a trend that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey highlighted.
“Since the vote to sell-off our NHS, £12bn of our services are now in private hands,” McCluskey noted. “Key clinical services including cancer care, blood analysis and mental health have been sold off or are up for sale. It is time to scrap the health and social care act and save our NHS.
“This is a national scandal and the Tories must be held to account,” added McCluskey. “The government had no mandate to sell-off our NHS but they did just that. You have to ask yourself why?”
“The next election will be make or break for our NHS. It is clear what Cameron’s preferred path is – an American-style health system,” McCluskey went on to say.
On the other hand, Labour has pledged several commitments to end privatisation of the NHS, including scrapping the health and social care act, capping profits on private companies tendering NHS contracts and ensuring the health service is protected from international trade agreements threatening privatisation, such as TTIP.
Unite head of political Jennie Formby, like McCluskey, said the choice in May is clear if we are to protect the NHS.
“There is only one party committed to saving our NHS and repealing the hated health and social care act – and that’s Labour,” she said.

 

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