Tory health bill published today despite fears it puts ‘private firms at heart of NHS’

An NHS nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccination, at a mass centre in Doncaster (Image: PA)

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Controversial NHS reforms will be unveiled in Parliament on Tuesday afternoon aimed at closer collaboration between the NHS, local authorities and private care providers.

The bill’s supporters, including the NHS leadership, believe it will undo some of the changes brought in by the Tories disastrous 2012 reform act under then-Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

This emphasised “competition” between different areas of health and care and ushered in an era of tendering processes where private firms provided much more NHS services for a profit.

The bill will introduce Integrated Care Boards and Integrated Care Partnerships in each area of England which will coordinate services for its population.

Campaigners are angry that these boards will include representatives of private health firms as well as clinicians and public health experts.

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary
(Image: PA)

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The astonishing response of our health and care services to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit fast-forward on some of the bold changes the NHS set out to deliver in its Long Term Plan and shone the spotlight on other areas that require change to achieve better care for our communities.

“To help meet demand, build a better health service and bust the backlog, we need to back the NHS, as it celebrates its 73rd birthday this week, and embed lessons learned from the pandemic.

“This will support our health and care services to be more integrated and innovative so the NHS can deliver for people in the decades to come.”

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Sir Simon Stevens, the outgoing NHS chief executive, said: “This bill contains widely supported proposals for integrated care, which have been developed and consulted on over recent years by the NHS itself.

“They go with the grain of what our staff and patients can see is needed, by removing outdated and bureaucratic legal barriers to joined-up working between GPs, hospitals, and community services.”

Campaigners argue the bill does not go far enough to unpick the Lansley reforms and actually embeds private firms in to the NHS.

Twelve organisations have today written to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid calling on him to ensure private companies are kept off new NHS decision making boards.

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It – who coordinated the letter – said:

“Over the last year, our NHS has been the lifeblood of our country – keeping so many of us safe during the pandemic. The last thing it needs right now is a dangerous overhaul which would put the private sector at the heart of our health service.

“The most worrying aspect of the government’s new Health and Care Bill is the prospect that for-profit private companies – the likes of Virgin Care and Serco – could be sitting on boards deciding where NHS money gets spent, and who gets what care. It represents nothing short of a corporate takeover of our health service.

“As organisations representing NHS staff, patients and the public at large, we’re asking Sajid Javid to rethink this wrong headed move, to withdraw this Corporate Takeover Bill and to stop the increasing private sector involvement in our health service.”

Currently the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, brought in by David Cameron’s government, requires compulsory competitive tendering for NHS services.

The new legislation would end this requirement, which campaigners say will make it much easier for services to be contracted to the private sector without checks.

Sir Simon Stevens, the outgoing NHS chief executive
(Image: PA)

Rachel Harrison, national officer for the GMB union, said: “Yesterday the Queen gave NHS staff the George Cross, whilst today the Government is publishing reforms that will further fragment and privatise our NHS.

“Ministers have again failed to sort out much needed reform for social care or tell us how they are going to get any funding down to the workers’ pay packets.

“What we should be hearing from the Government is the need for restoration pay for public sector workers. Nothing less.

“The new Secretary of State seems to think giving himself more powers to private companies is more important than putting money in the pockets of those that got us through the pandemic.”

It comes as the NHS faces a record five million treatment backlog that is growing amid record staff shortages.

The NHS has already indicated it may pay private hospitals to clear some of the backlog, diverting funding away from directly employed staff and infrastructure such as hospital beds.

Dr John Lister, Secretary of Keep Our NHS Public and health policy academic, said:

“The very last thing the NHS needs now is another top down reorganisation along the lines of the February White Paper.

"This Bill will not treat even one extra patient, or recruit one extra nurse – and there’s no extra cash on the table: so one must question why this reform is deemed so urgent.

"We know even Sajid Javid has reservations about the Bill, lots of Conservative MPs don’t like the new plans and NHS employers are warning it means more central powers and bureaucracy.

"Just like Andrew Lansley’s disastrous Health and Social Care Act, that this Bill is supposed to correct, nobody supports this except ministers and their cronies and donors pressing for even more lucrative NHS contracts to be handed out – this time without competition.”

Alexandra Callaghan, policy head at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Staff numbers and capacity is now the single biggest crisis facing the NHS after the pandemic, with nurses telling us that they are completely burnt-out after what has been the most challenging period in their careers.

“This bill is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the Government to finally seek the long-term solutions needed to tackle the ticking workforce timebomb.

“They must use this to ensure there are enough, fully trained cancer nurses to give people with cancer the care they urgently need now, and in the future.”

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