NHS sale has begun – where will it all end?

July 13, 2012 by
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Private health care companies cherry-picking at will? Don’t mind if they do, says Andrew Lansley today as he confirms the 49 per cent cap and allows hospitals to take on substantial much private work.

nhs hospitals see cap on private work lifted

NHS hospitals – the 49 per cent cap has been lifted

So it is official, we really are entering an era of two-tier health care, as I suggested on Monday here

Would we be happier if Lansley had been honest from Day One and said that the NHS – as originally conceived – was not going to exist any more?

I doubt it.  However, the dishonesty that has accompanied the Health and Social Care Bill has been breath-taking.

Moreover, given the sheer number of links between private health care companies and members of the Coalition by which they cannot avoid benefiting financially, you would think we lived in a moral abyss.

But I don’t think we do. There are many out here – away from Westminster, away from Mustique (new Branson Chateau to be built on the profits of Virgin Care) – who still believe that the NHS can continue to be reformed, refined and rebuilt without turning it over to the marketplace. It will require hard decisions (not all of which will be popular) – and perhaps we need to define anew what the NHS should cover.

Every week, I am learning of more essential services under threat, and I am compiling a list to be published in a few weeks time.

But perhaps campaigners need to be honest, be radical, and find areas that don’t have to be covered.  I’ll take free continence nurses over free parking to be honest.

It all comes down to decisions – tough ones as Cameron and Clegg learnt early on in his premiership. Cam couldn’t keep the NHS safe as he so sincerely promised pre-election, and fight wars in Libya. He chose rockets over radiotherapy. Nick Clegg couldn’t tinker with Lords Reform and protect the health of the nation. He chose ermine over enemas.

Back to today’s business. The New Statesman points out that when a policy gets slipped out on a Friday, MPs are hoping the public have already signed off as they have (sitting back in constituencies).

But we haven’t, have we?

Again, according to the NS: Sue Slipman, the chief executive of the NHS Foundation Trust Network, describes the removal of the cap as “a really creative way of bringing more money into the health service”. What she doesn’t say is that foundation trusts, in pursuit of profit, will likely prioritise the treatment and care of private patients over NHS ones. Since the most profitable procedures are usually the simplest, those requiring more complex treatment will be pushed to the back of the queue. As Howard Catton, head policy at the Royal College of Nursing, has previously warned: “NHS patients may feel a subtle pressure to reach for the credit card.” Since all of the remaining 113 NHS trusts are required to become self-governing foundation trusts by April 2014, the removal of the cap will apply to all NHS services – hospitals, ambulances, mental health, community services and clinics.

This is the biggest news of the week. Clegg may still be sulking over the second chamber. But the rest of us should be shouting about this dreadfully cynical clinical manoeuvre.

Back to my earlier point on Monday – Is this the way the NHS ends – not with a bang, but a whimper?


About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

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