Last month I commented that the NHS Bill risked losing hearts and minds and drew some parallels with the way differences of opinion on NHS reforms have been handled in the past, that is, by just ignoring them. Well, the reality is now upon us and whether we like or not, the thing is signed.
Many of the arguments against the Bill have been deeply emotive with health sector groups denouncing the Bill with evangelistic fervour…an ideal scenario if you want to dilute and detract from the smaller voices warning that the Bill is privatising health care by the back door. If you’re wondering whether this is the case or whether I am just scaremongering, then maybe it’s worth considering that this Bill has been ushered hastily through at a time when surveys show record levels of satisfaction with the NHS.
Being a “business person”, you’d think I would see the sense in privatisation and in most markets I can, but how can directors of private companies put patients first when their statutory duty is to put shareholders first?
These questions are the ones that generate a most unhealthy response in me:
- Once hospitals are forced to take the Foundation route, they become independent of government and subject to GATT rules (showing my age) and EU competition. What will happen to them should they start to fail?
- What will happen to the supply contracts currently in place with NHS orgainisations that are being scrapped? We’re talking about everything from cleaning to catering to IT and building maintenance. Will they be novated?…or worse, who’s left to manage the suppliers?
- Even before the bill was passed, we had an example in Hounslow where the new GP consortium has appointed a multi-billion dollar American company to vet patient referrals according to a set of rules. How is this improving patient choice?
- What happens when GPs start running out of money to commission services? If I should suddenly get ill in March, would I have to wait until the new financial year in April until I get hospital treatment?
- Where will the 1 million staff work whose jobs are set to be privatised by 2014?
Most patients do not see GP practices as private sector organisations, but they are, and at least in the past we have had referrals to hospital staff to provide treatment for the patient independent of profit considerations.
This Bill will take that safeguard away…and personally I would rather be treated by an NHS not-for-profit organisation than a “multi-billion dollar American company”.