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March 9, 2012 / politicsbitesize

NHS Reforms

A large proportion of people who use the NHS and those who work within it want the Health and Social Care Bill 2011 to be stopped. The union Unite’s protest march to to ‘Save our NHS’ was held on Wednesday 7th March 2012. It departed at 1pm from the Houses of Parliament and was attended by thousands of doctors, nurses and NHS users. But why are people so adamant that this Bill should be abolished and why do they fear it will change the NHS for the worse?

The main concern raised by the troubled voices has to do with the potential impact that the private sector may end up having on the NHS. One of the founding pillars of the National Health Service has always been the guarantee by the government that the services in the NHS will be provided exclusively via the NHS or its affiliates. Andrew Lansley’s bill proposes a change to the wording of this tenet to read ‘any willing provider* of services, which removes the condition that the NHS provide its own services and opens it up to potentially allowing the private sector to offer services.

Another more serious concern raised is that of allowing competition into the NHS. The Health Secretary claims that by allowing providers to compete for tenders, better services for patients will be encouraged. But the British Medical Association has said that, ‘forcing commissioners of care to tender contracts to any willing provider, including … commercial companies, could destabilise local health economies and fragment care for patients. Adding price competition into the mix could also allow large commercial companies to enter the NHS market and chase the most profitable contracts, using their size to undercut on price, which could ultimately damage local services.’

The government denies these claims that it is privatising the NHS and nowhere does the new bill actively promote the use of private sector providers. As it stands today (9th March 2012) Chapter Two in Part Three of the Health and Social Care Bill is dedicated to clarifying ‘Competition’ within the NHS. Nowhere does it refer to the use of private healthcare providers, but on page 109 the ‘Requirements as to procurement, patient choice and competition’ clearly outline that any group commissioning services must ‘not engage in anti-competitive behaviour’. This statement, coupled with the wording in the bill that ‘any willing provider’ may supply services, goes some way to propping the door open for the private sector.

However, Clive Peedell, co-chairman of the NHS Consultants’ Association and consultant clinical oncologist at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, states in the BMJ: ‘Repeated government denials about NHS privatisation don’t stand up to scrutiny … The meaning of privatisation is complex … However, the World Health Organization has defined privatisation in healthcare as “a process in which non-governmental actors become increasingly involved in the financing and/or provision of healthcare services”’ (J Muschell, Technical Briefing Note on Privatization in Health, 1995, WHO/TFHE/TBN/95.1). So, based on this definition and the details provided above regarding who can/will provide services for the NHS, it seems that the reforms presented in the Health and Social Care Bill are, in essence, a form of privatisation.

At present there are already two private sector companies** who provide services within the UK health care system: Bridgepoint, who own Care UK, and Blackstone, who own Southern Cross and Pulse (a staffing agency for the NHS). What is more, according to a report by Corporate Watch, Andrew Lansley received funding from the wife of John Nash, a private equity tycoon and former chairman of Care UK (Bridgepoint).

These are alarming facts. If you would like to see the NHS remain a public not-for-profit service then please join the fight.


* This has now been dropped and the term replaced with ‘a relevant service provider’.

** These are actually Private Equity Companies. For more information about this see the Corporate Watch website.



Leave a Comment
  1. Mike Williams / Mar 13 2012 12:21 am


    Welcome to the home of private hospital care, the United States. Here in Texas, USA we have Republican, Conservative, health care. There are 3 for profit hospitals, and 2 non-profit hospitals in this city. The for profit hospitals are glad to treat those with money, or mostly private insurance with rather good care in their hospitals. But should you have no health insurance, which 50 million
    Americans do not have, or if you have government insurance that pays very lowly to doctors for care, then you get to go to the non-profit hospitals where you enjoy long lines, less care, newer doctors, or doctors in training, and overworked nurses and staff working in old facilities, and with dated equipment. Even the parking lot has holes in it due to budget problems.

    So, let private health care in and it will be your demise of equal, good health for all. They will bribe your politicians as they have ours with contributions, they will set up where the rich, and fancy live, and they will take a profit out of your health care system that now does not have enough money.. They care not for the poor, or elderly, and those they will leave to the NHS, exept a few times they invite the newspapers in to show the free medical care they gave away.
    You got a few problems, you don’t have to throw out the whole system. I bet our American for profit giant health profiteers are the ones there stirring up trouble. They have kept us in poor health care for 50 years in the USA.

    • politicsbitesize / Mar 13 2012 8:57 am

      Thank you for your comment. It is good to have information about how an already privatised health care system works – or doesn’t work! I think we, in the UK, need to fight hard to retain our not-for-profit NHS and I hope that by spreading the word more people will stand up against the Bill currently being passed around in parliament.

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