Our National Health Service, considered one of the world's most efficient healthcare systems by experts, is valued as somewhat of a national treasure here in the UK. Rich or poor, the NHS is free at the point use for everyone - paid for by progressive taxation on the richest and most fortunate in our country. Should we proud of our NHS? Absolutely. However, our NHS is undergoing a crisis that makes its future increasingly uncertain. And the driving force behind the current crisis? The privatisation of healthcare.
Clive Peedell, leader of the National Health Action Party and respected Co-chair of the NHS Consultants Association, tells us why he believes privatisation is driving failures in the NHS:
1. Private companies, on average, deliver a lower quality of care than NHS providers.
2. Commercialisation leads to the 'cherry picking’ of patients to help private contractors meet government targets. A consequence of this would be that a patient needing a quick standard procedure would be prioritised over a patient with a more complex/urgent health problem.
3. Privatisation breeds internal competition that can potentially bankrupt NHS hospitals - a destructive process that had has already forced one in three foundation trusts into deficit.
4. The 'internal market' found within our NHS promotes complex legal arrangements that take "NHS money away from frontline care" and line the pockets of lawyers and business executives.
The last four decades have painted a rather bleak picture of our NHS, one dominated by top-down reforms, wasteful private-finance agreements and market-led commercialisation. These reforms, started by Thatcher and continued by New Labour, have transformed our hospitals into businesses that are forced to keep on top of an ever dwindling budget. Moreover, Clive Peedell tells us that this budget is put under pressure even further by the constant need of private contractors "to make a profit for their shareholders".
Just this year, it was reported over 70% of healthcare contracts are being awarded to these private firms; companies that Clive Peedell says are more than willing to cut corners. With their shareholders in mind, private companies are found to employ fewer and less qualified staff than the NHS - raising key questions about the quality of care delivered by contractors.
Our interview shows that the private sector has not only capitalised on economic crisis but, in terms of the NHS, it is capitalising on the personal crises of the patients that use it.
Dr Peedell quite correctly identifies that the need to please shareholders and meet profit demands has seen the “cherry picking of the easiest and most profitable cases by the private sector, whilst the NHS must continue to provide a comprehensive range of services to the entire community.” However, in a bid to increase investment in our NHS, this ‘cherry-picking’ is allowed to continue to the detriment of service users.
As well as the patients, this privatisation is having a devastating impact on those employed by the NHS. As this article (http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/management/nhs-using-increasing-number-of-zero-hour-contracts/5061074.article) shows, increased use of zero-hour contracts and part-time work is becoming foundational in the NHS. Dr Peedell accurately states that “since the greatest expenditure in healthcare is on staff pay, private companies have an incentive to drive down costs by employing fewer and less qualified staff.” The use of precarious employment is an increasingly beneficial tactic for private companies, allowing them the use of a malleable and desperate workforce, at any convenience.
Potentially an even more damaging effect of employing less qualified staff however, is the eradication of ‘care’ from the profession. Countless documentaries and covert footage of abuse in private care homes – and increasingly, in NHS hospitals – represent the devastating effect that cost-cutting has had in terms of care in our health system. But if contracts for work become increasingly insecure, how can we possibly expect the best qualified people to take up employment?
The European elections represent a chance for change. The rise of UKIP shows that a lot of people recognise this. But if this is indeed the year of fringe parties in the UK, we would be better placed to send a statement of defiance against continued austerity, privatisation and employment insecurity, and begin by protecting the cornerstone of our welfare system.
“The main issue for us in the Euro elections is to highlight the threat of the EU/US TTIP trade deal to the NHS. Unless the NHS is exempted, it could be locked into irreversible privatisation and left at the mercy of large US health corporations, which can bid for contracts to deliver NHS care. We intend to make the Euro elections a referendum on the NHS.” – Dr Clive Peedell
Backbench Minister for Health