Labour force NHS privatisation into the spotlight

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Labour’s Andy Burnham calls for a halt to privatisation plans

Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has urged NHS England to stop privatisation of health services until after the general election.

Declaring that voters need a “proper debate” about the future of the NHS, Mr Burnham will say in a speech later today that “privatisation is being forced through at pace and scale”. Labour’s argument is that via the general restructuring of the NHS, which mainly began in 2013, privatisation has been happening by the back door. This includes plans for the biggest outsourcing deal in NHS history, which could see cancer care across Staffordshire become privatised as part of a £1.2 billion contract.

The Department of Health have revealed that since 2010, a further 1.3% of the NHS budget has been spent in the private sector, with the total figure at around 6%. Mr Burnham has written to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, asking for a pause in privatisation, unless patient safety or service is at risk. However the response was that funding decisions are now being made by a group of GP’s, who have been given the final monetary say when it comes to NHS reform.

Becoming private

Mr Burnham is reported to say “Commissioners have been ordered to put all services out to the market, NHS spending on private and other providers has gone through the £10 billion barrier for the first time. When did the British public ever give their consent for this? It is indefensible for the character of the country’s most valued institution to be changed in this way without the public being given a say.”

However, there has been some skepticism to Mr Burnham’s comments, with a government spokesman saying Mr Burnham was playing politics and pointed to his record of privatisation while he was health secretary in the last Labour government. “Use of the private sector by the NHS doubled in the last four years of Labour, a far bigger increase than under this government. Andy Burnham himself signed off the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke Hospital during Labour’s final year so it is pure political posturing to try to interfere with doctors making the best clinical judgements for patients.”

Matt Tee, chief operating officer of the NHS Confederation, said “Our members are very clear that there are plenty of things which keep them awake at night, but contracting is rarely cited as one of them.”