Parliamentary sketch – Patients before profit
Is there a role for private companies in the NHS? I say “No”.
Private companies may have a role to play supporting from outside the NHS – supplying buildings, beds, medicines etc. But when profit is placed before patient care a line is crossed.
Indeed, the political battle lines have been well defined in recent weeks here in West Cornwall. Serco, who have provided out of hours GP services since 2006, will terminate their contract next year giving us a chance to reintegrate that service with other parts of the NHS; our community hospitals and services which became a Community Interest Company three years ago may be brought back into the NHS fold soon; the mental health inpatient service at Longreach in Redruth has been closed since May exposing the unsatisfactory and botched nature of private finance deals to run our hospitals; but the “hotel” services at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust will soon go private; and key planned surgical and other NHS services will be forced to go out to tender, potentially risking the viability of some of our cherished NHS hospital services and even hospitals!
As you may remember, although I sit on the Government benches, I led a campaign and voted against the Government’s Health and Social Care Act in 2012, not because I believe that it would “destroy the NHS”, as some of the protestors’ placards claimed, because it threw a spanner into the work of those who want to drive improved integration of health services and social care.
Giving GPs a more central role in the NHS of course improved the chance of local communities and patient groups to have a greater say in the shaping of their NHS. That was welcome. But the risk of marketisation and fragmenting the NHS remained.
The previous Labour Government rolled out the red carpet for the private sector – hence Serco Out of Hours doctors, Longreach PFI projects etc. So they had very little leg to stand on when they were criticising the Coalition Government.
Some of this “privatisation” of the NHS is driven by the dogma of a so-called “choice” agenda; by those who believe that all public bodies must, by their nature, be flabby, inefficient and uncaring. Of course “choice” is desirable and should be encouraged. But it is unwise to make it the foundation of healthcare planning.
Most people locally tell me that they are more interested in the range and quality of services in their local hospital than they are about the choice between a range of providers of elected services. Indeed, choice can have a detrimental effect on local services. The poorest, the least assertive, children, the elderly, people with learning disabilities and those without their own transport could become seriously disadvantaged as higher socio-economic groups take advantage of the option to travel to hospitals outside their immediate area, leaving poorer communities and remote areas with even more threadbare services and the risk of a cycle of decline.
Added to this, cost centre management styles have spawned a culture more concerned with “working to contract” than “working in the patients’ best interests.”
But it doesn’t have to be like this. We should be pulling services back together rather than grinding on with a dogma that puts “choice” above common sense.
Of course, I am reassured that those who work in the NHS continue to work like Trojans and heroes to defend its integrity and maintain standards. But I still feel I was right to vote against the Health and Social Care Act. That doesn’t mean to say that the battle is over. We are winning some and losing others. The campaign must go on.
You can contact Andrew George by email: email@example.com. His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG. Telephone: 01736 360020.
Andrew George MP
Kernow a’n West ha Syllan
West Cornwall and the Scillies
Constituency of St Ives
Tel: 01736 360020
Fax: 01736 332866
19th August 2014