Thursday, 10 February 2011

SOS: Save Our NHS

Are you aware of the Government’s plan to turn our NHS into a marketplace for profit, where your health needs and those of your family will increasingly be buried deep under contracts and deals involving private businesses whose prime concern is to make money? If more money is to be made from someone else, you might just find yourself slipping further towards the back of the queue.

The Conservatives said they would protect the NHS and claimed explicitly that under their watch, to avoid any unnecessary chaos, there would be “no more top down reorganisations”. But the Health & Social Care Bill, now being pushed through Parliament by the Conservative Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, would pile on a vast amount of extra management and financial responsibilities on groups of hard pressed GPs, deflecting them from giving the best care possible to their patients.

What’s more, in addition to bringing about unnecessary chaos, creating another centralised Quango, and wasting public money on management consultants, this Bill would ‘open up’ the NHS as a giant market for profit-driven businesses to exploit for their own gains. It’s no secret that Lansley was “bankrolled by the head of one of the biggest private health providers to the NHS” (as reported by the Daily Telegraph, 14 Jan 2010). Now these private companies could be given unprecedented opportunities to make money out of the NHS.

Lansley’s Bill would establish that the first and foremost duty of the health service regulator is to “promote competition”. It could provide extra incentives to bring new private operators into a market by insisting that GPs pay them a preferential price. Private companies would in turn be allowed to offer “loss leaders” to gain a foothold in the market before squeezing out not-for-profit NHS providers.

If Lansley gets his way, the current cap on the amount of private healthcare work an NHS trust can take on would be removed. Forced to compete with private businesses in making money to survive, more and more NHS trusts, staffed by doctors and nurses trained through the public purse, would have to look to increasing their income by prioritising private patients. They would also have to get business consultants in to help them make more money in the market system.

The Government has already given the go-ahead for NHS money to be spent on “commissioning support” from organisations such as United Healthcare (an American multinational) and management consultants KPMG. It also wants any surplus generated by NHS trusts to be available to pay out to GPs as bonuses instead of it being all ploughed back into patient care. This is at a time when the NHS budget already cannot even keep pace with inflation, and without any plan for reinvestment in the near future to build up the NHS, the new market system will determine which patient will lose out.

What Lansley has in store for us is nothing short of the profitisation of the NHS. If you’re not happy with this development, you should ask your local MP what their position is in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill. Their response should inform how you vote come the next election, which may happen sooner rather than later if the Government refuses to change the course of this stealth bomber against the NHS.

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