Public sector union UNISON yesterday again urged the government to stop the privatisation of the NHS.
Commenting on a warning by Audit Commission chairman James Strachan that contracting out NHS services threatened the existence of hospitals and casualty departments, a UNISON spokesman said: ‘He is saying what we’ve been saying for some time’.
The UNISON spokesman added to News Line: ‘Private sector involvement in the NHS is reaching a critical point.
‘It could destroy a free health service based on need.
‘We’ve consistently opposed the privatisation of the NHS and moved the successful motion against it at the Labour Party conference last year.
‘It’s time the government listened and stopped the privatisation of the NHS.’
Strachan said yesterday that it has no great effect when the private sector only makes up five per cent of NHS work but when private sector involvement starts to be 15 per cent or 20 per cent ‘it clearly starts to have implications for the remaining 80 per cent’.
Commenting on the further introduction of private sector provision, Strachan warned against ‘just standing back and watching key parts of a hospital being farmed out such that it makes it very difficult for its A&E department to run itself because it’s lost some of the underpinning surgical divisions which it needs to function’.
Strachan also made the point that it is ‘one thing to move a specialist service ten miles down the road and quite another to move it 200 miles away’.
A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesperson told News Line: ‘In any market there are winners and losers.
‘The government claims that creating a market, by introducing competition, will raise quality across the NHS.
‘However, the BMA argues that a market economy could destabilise the NHS and lead to inequalities in patient care.
‘Pushing forward a policy with a mix of independent sector and conventional NHS providers, without properly assessing where the extra capacity is needed and how it is to be integrated with existing structures, risks fragmenting NHS services and losing continuity of care for patients.
‘Payment by results will be extended across the NHS during 2006.
‘The tariff must accurately reflect the costs of treatment, particularly the need to carry the cost of essential facilities such as intensive care.
‘It must also recognise the requirements for specialist care and patients with multiple morbidities.
‘Contracts have been agreed with private providers at rates above the NHS tariff.
‘NHS units have no hope of competing with new providers if they are not on an equal footing.
‘Instead, they will be left fighting for survival.’
Howard Catton, Royal College of Nursing head of policy told News Line: ‘A lot of what Mr Strachan has been saying reflects our concerns.
‘Patient Choice will hit people who rely on local hospitals.
‘We are concerned about the elderly, patients with long-term conditions, and children.
‘Introducing the market will lead to NHS hospital closures. Choice means competition and with competition there are winners and losers.
‘A lot of government statements concentrate on the benefits for winners, whereas we need to seriously think of the implications for potential losers.’