The British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday slammed the government for ‘treating health care like a business opportunity’.
It was responding to news that the government is drawing up a list of as many as 30 to 40 ‘under-performing’ NHS hospitals and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) with the threat that if they don’t ‘improve’ their trust boards will be replaced by private managements.
Six hospital trusts are said to have already been rated as ‘seriously under-performing’ and could face action within months.
BMA chairman Hamish Meldrum warned patients would suffer in an attempt to treat healthcare as a commodity.
Meldrum said: ‘We have got a fundamental problem with some aspects of a market in healthcare.
‘It worries me that policies like this are too simplistic, that they are treating health care as a business opportunity when it is something everyone needs to access.’
Patients’ Association spokeswoman Katherine Murphy told News Line the move is a threat to local district general hospitals (DGHs).
She said: ‘I fear that the private sector will hive off the most profitable services, like planned surgery, and that NHS DGHs will lose their A&E departments, as well as services that are really important to the elderly, like ophthalmology and podiatry.’
Those facing the most urgent warning are the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, the Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare Trust, the East of England Ambulance Service, plus PCTs in Brent, northwest London, Great Yarmouth and Waveney, and North Yorkshire and York.
Privateers considering bidding to run NHS trusts include Serco, which runs prison services and some out-of-hours services for GPs, Australian company Ramsay Healthcare, Austrian-owned Vamed, and General Healthcare, which runs private hospitals in the UK.
Meanwhile, health secretary Alan Johnson is preparing the way for a two-tier NHS.
He is to announce that the government will allow ‘co-payments’ whereby patients can ‘top-up’ their NHS treatment by paying for drugs and treatments not available on the NHS.
This is a reversal of his statement to MPs last year that allowing co-payments would put an end to ‘the founding principles of the NHS’.
Privatisation is spreading through other areas of the NHS, including dentistry.