Labour plans for private companies to take over primary care

RCN yesterday condemned the privatisation of primary care. Nurses demonstrate to defend the NHS
RCN yesterday condemned the privatisation of primary care. Nurses demonstrate to defend the NHS

‘CARE in the NHS should be driven by patient need, and not by profit or financial gain,’ a BMA spokeswoman told News Line yesterday.

She was responding to news that the Department of Health is inviting private insurance companies to tender to do the work of the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).

The PCTs hold 80 per cent of the NHS budget and are responsible for the purchasing of health provision.

Under the government’s plan, international companies such as United Health and Kaiser Permanente, acting for PCT’s, will be able to hand big contracts to the major private providers and also decide what treatments should be available for patients.

Privately-owned and staffed organisations will act for the PCT Board to procure ‘best value for money’ services, including GP services, paid for by the NHS.

If the government decides a PCT Board is ‘failing’ the private companies can be directly contracted by the DoH.

The BMA spokeswoman added: ‘We need to know more details but we are very concerned’.

‘This is something that will be a hot topic at our annual conference next week.’

Colin Beacock, policy adviser at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also spoke to News Line yesterday.

He said: ‘The RCN membership at our annual conference earlier this year overwhelmingly condemned the ongoing privatisation of community health services.

‘That is as much about commissioning as it is about provision.’

He added: ‘At a time when the government is pressing the NHS for greater and greater efficiency, it does seem to us that they are instituting a system that is going to generate unnecessary amounts of bureaucracy.’

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Hewitt is due to announce today plans to let the private and voluntary sectors take over ‘failing’ NHS community hospitals.

To encourage the private companies, Hewitt is to offer to put NHS capital into joint-venture Public/Private Partnerships.

l North West London Hospitals NHS Trust is considering a plan to close the Accident and Emergency Department at

Central Middlesex Hospital, Park Royal, and transfer all A&E services to Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow.

The Trust calculates the move will save £11m, as it seeks to cut a £24.7m cumulative deficit.

At Northwick Park, the Trust plans to enlarge the A&E department by farming out services, such as audiology, dental services, genito-urinary medicine and HIV/AIDS services, to other NHS and private providers.

The Brent Emergency Care and Diagnostics unit walk-in centre at Central Middlesex A&E is to be transferred to another NHS provider or the private sector.

l Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, which provides specialist mental health services for 800,000 people, is considering limiting patients to one hot meal a day in summer and axing the in-house hairdresser, as part of plans to reduce a £5m deficit.

The Trust is also planning to withdraw free newspapers and introduce car parking fees at its sites across Norfolk and North Suffolk.

The Partnership employs more than 2,000 staff.

A Trust spokesman said the review of patient services is part of an effort to reduce the impact of cuts in clinical services.

Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust has already saved £50,000 by changing a laundry contract.