The Blair government is trawling Europe for health privateers to carry out elective operations in the NHS, the British Medical Association yesterday revealed in its house magazine BMA News.
‘Independent’ sector firms from across Europe are being invited to bid for surgical contracts worth a total of £500m a year that could involve the NHS handing over control of some of its treatment centres, warns BMA News.
The Department of Health, while denying the NHS is being privatised, has published a procurement notice in the Official Journal of the European Union seeking expressions of interest on delivering 250,000 procedures including urology, orthopaedics and plastic surgery.
The notice says: ‘Elective care services are expected to be delivered from a range of new and existing facilities, including independent sector and NHS hospitals and treatment centres.’
The BMA said: ‘Ravenscourt Park, in London, and the South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre on the Epsom General Hospital site have been linked with the move into private sector control.’
Consultants’ leaders accused ministers of privatising the NHS by stealth over the plans to move health service treatment centres into private sector control.
BMA central consultants and specialists committee joint deputy chairman Jonathan Fielden said doctors’ leaders had always welcomed extra capacity to perform more elective procedures faster.
But he said: ‘As far as we are aware, this is the first instance of NHS facilities being moved into the private sector. It is a very small step away from privatisation.
‘If they take these centres out of NHS control they are contracting NHS capacity, not increasing it. It reduces the NHS choice for patients.’
He added doctors also had concerns over juniors’ training and quality assurance.
A Department of Health spokesman claimed no decisions on whether to proceed with any particular proposal had been made.
‘We are in discussions with the local NHS about the best way to run these facilities. The final decision will be based on what best suits patients’ needs. Far from being secret, this is a transparent and open process,’ he claimed.
NHS Elect, which manages 13 treatment centres, also claimed it was unaware of the government proposals.
The DoH spokesman added it was aware of the training concerns and was working with the independent providers and medical royal colleges on the issue.