NHS privatisation programme ‘still on track’

Union banners from Unite and the GMB on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration against cuts on March 26
Union banners from Unite and the GMB on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration against cuts on March 26

UNISON said on Monday that the NHS Future Forum’s report into the NHS Health and Social Care Bill, ‘shows a Bill beyond repair’.

Even if the Government adopted all the report’s recommendations, ‘It is still the wrong Bill at the wrong time,’ warned Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.

Unison stressed: ‘Really big questions over critical issues such as privatisation remain unanswered: just how will the government prevent “cherry-picking”?

‘And why are there no limits on the amount and range of services that can be privatised?’

Prentis, went on to say: ‘The Forum is recommending sweeping changes to the Bill because it is riddled with flaws.

‘It exposes the real agenda behind the government’s Bill – the wholesale marketisation of the NHS.

‘It wants to turn our health service into nothing more than a logo on the side of a van run by a multinational company.

‘The Forum’s changes may airbrush out some of the flaws, but no amount of fiddling round the edges is good enough when the future of an NHS free and accessible to all is at stake.

‘The Bill is beyond repair and should be scrapped.

‘Crucially, the report fails to mention the importance of keeping the cap on the number of private patients hospitals can treat.

‘This means that NHS patients are likely to find themselves at the end of a very long queue.

‘Cameron may say he is not privatising the NHS and that it is safe from cuts, but the reality in hospitals and primary care services up and down the country tells a different story.

‘The government is using the Bill as a smokescreen to cover what is happening right now in the NHS.

‘The £20bn that the government is demanding from Trusts in so-called efficiency savings is leading to longer waiting lists, patients waiting in pain for their operations and job cuts across the NHS.

‘The government is belatedly beginning to realise it has gone too far.

‘The outcry from the public and from health unions and professionals is forcing it to think again.

‘But cobbling together a half-hearted compromise will not help the NHS, its patients and staff.’

‘The NHS privatisation programme is still on track, despite protests by health professionals to the Future Forum “listening” exercise,’ the Unite union said on Monday.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said that the NHS had been through an unprecedented year of uncertainty – but the report of the Future Forum will do nothing to quell the concern of health professionals and patients.

‘It has been a wasted year that has caused havoc with the NHS which had just received its best patient satisfaction survey for a generation.’

Unite said that the Future Forum had done some good work in exposing the flaws in the controversial Health and Social Care Bill, but the pace of privatisation had only been slowed, not discarded – which will not meet the concerns expressed by the Liberal Democrats at their spring conference.

The recommendation that Monitor’s duty to promote ‘competition’ should be removed in favour of ‘choice’ for local people still left question marks about what this exactly means in relation to the role of the private sector in the NHS.

Unite national officer for health, Rachael Maskell said: ‘The problem with Monitor is that it will now promote choice, competition and collaboration – all of which are contradictory aims.’

‘The hybrid mess that Monitor will become will do to the NHS what other botched regulatory bodies have done to other public services – from rail to social care.

‘Unless patient care comes first, then Monitor will fail patients – and our politicians will have failed them too.’

Unite repeated its call for the bill to be scrapped and that a commission of genuinely independent experts be set up to conduct a proper review of what is needed for the long-term needs of the NHS.

Maskell said: ‘The Future Forum has come up with a series of placebos; suggesting tinkering with the timescale, playing down the involvement of private healthcare companies, and the health secretary remaining ultimately in charge of the NHS.

‘The way that David Cameron and Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley will interpret the Future Forum’s recommendations is that the pace of the privatisation of the NHS will be slowed down, but not abandoned – that’s the crux.

‘The bill’s troubles will continue if the coalition persists in sidelining the legitimate concerns of health professionals, patients and the public.

‘The Liberal Democrats have to be aware that the privatisation train – which will turn into the gravy train for private healthcare companies – has not been derailed, but just delayed.’

The British Medical Association leadership’s response was equivocal, quite at odds with GPs’ passionate, anti-privatisation sentiments expressed at the recent Local Medical Committees conference.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of BMA Council, said: ‘The way the government and the Future Forum have engaged with the profession during this listening exercise has been a refreshing experience.

‘It is vital that this constructive approach is maintained in the following months as the detail is worked on.

‘The Future Forum’s recommendations address many of the BMA’s key concerns, to a greater or lesser extent.

‘We are hopeful that our “missing” concerns, such as the excessive power of the NHS Commissioning Board over consortia and the so called “quality premium” will be addressed as more detail emerges.

‘While we welcome the acknowledgement that the education and training reforms need much more thinking through, there needs to be immediate action to prevent the imminent implosion of deaneries.

‘Obviously, the critical factor is now how the government responds, as well as ensuring that the detail of the changes matches up to expectations.

‘But if the government does accept the recommendations we have heard today we will be seeing, at the least, a dramatically different Health and Social Care Bill and one that would get us onto a much better track.

‘There will then still be plenty more to do to ensure that the amended reforms do support the NHS and its staff in continuing to improve care for patients and tackle the major financial challenges ahead.’

The Royal College of Nursing’s Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dr Peter Carter said: ‘We welcome the report’s findings that Monitor must support the integration of care and that care must not become of secondary importance to cost.

‘Equally, we fully support the report’s conclusions regarding the importance of transparency within the new commissioning consortia as well as the recommendation that private firms must not be allowed to “cherry pick” services.

‘However, it is disappointing that the Future Forum appears not to have accepted the view of thousands of our members, who are calling for a mandatory requirement for nurses to sit on the board of every commissioning consortium.’

He added: ‘The government should enshrine this requirement in legislation when it responds as the reality on the ground is that new commissioning consortia are currently being established at pace without nursing representation.’