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Healthcare market already worth £29 billion

David Cameron claims the mantle of Tony Blair in defending the Coalition’s plans to impose market-driven changes in the National Health Service. He is absolutely right and that’s why trade union opposition to the government’s plans is reduced to a letter to The Times.

You would think from union protests that the market had just made its ugly appearance in the NHS. Far from it. By the time New Labour left office last May, an estimated 6% of all NHS work was carried out by private firms, thanks to a series of market-led reorganisations from 1997 onwards.

According to market research consultants Key Note, in 2009 the total UK market for private healthcare was worth almost £29bn, having risen in value terms by almost 22% compared with 2005. Acute care and psychiatric care rose in value terms by 24% and 42.4% respectively.

“The overall market has expanded within the last 5 years as a result of the growing shift from public to private provision, with the NHS making increasing use of private sector healthcare to cut waiting lists,” says a recent report which notes that the market continues to “attract attention and investment from overseas firms, as well as private equity operators”.

The Coalition plans to deepen what New Labour started, of course, not only in its plans for the NHS but in areas such as tuition fees and academy schools. Doctors will control the purse-strings and be able to select private providers on the grounds of price and bureaucratic primary care trusts (PCTs) will be abolished.

Health union Unison general secretary Dave Prentis accuses Cameron of "cutting away at the heart of society" and adds: "The NHS is not safe in Tory hands. [Health secretary] Lansley's proposals are unnecessary, untried and will cost the taxpayer dear. They threaten the very founding principles of the NHS."

The question is: where was Prentis from 1997-2010, while the NHS was being carved up by New Labour? Where was the opposition when private firms like Ramsay Health Care and Care UK were signing contracts to provide services to the NHS at a profit to the companies? To ask the question is to answer it. Union bureaucrats sat on their hands the whole time.

Take Ramsay Health Care. From its early days in Australia, the company has become a global brand, operating more than 100 hospitals and day surgeries in several countries, including 22 acute hospitals in England. Last December, the group announced an upgrade in profits thanks in part to a rise in patient admissions in Britain. Results for the five months to November 30 showed the company was on track to report a first-half net profit 26-28% higher than the same period in 2009.

Ramsay runs the Clifton Park clinic in York, which is at the centre of a claim for compensation by 50 local people after hip replacement operations went disastrously wrong, as the York Press reported: “Many claim they are suffering frequent dislocations or excruciating pain resulting from metal-on-metal debris getting into their bloodstream. Some can only walk with sticks; other symptoms include audible popping and cup loosening.” All were fitted with products manufactured by US company DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. which were recalled last August by DePuy after being on the market for seven years.

It seems the NHS will have to pick up the bill for any eventual compensation settlement.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
18 January 2011

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