NHS (Private Sector)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:17 pm on 16th January 2012.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health 7:17 pm, 16th January 2012

This is getting a little tedious. May I refer the hon. Gentleman to the motion, which indeed does the very same thing? It recognises the fact that there is

“an important role for the private sector” in the delivery of good NHS care and celebrates the role that it played in helping us to deliver the lowest ever NHS waiting times. Before intervening in future debates, he might like to read the motion that the House is considering.

Let me quote the Secretary of State’s interesting 2005 speech to the NHS Confederation, which set out the essential ingredients that we now see in his Health and Social Care Bill. His plan was to

“maximise competition, transfer risk to the private sector…appoint a strong, pro-competitive regulator…set out clearly the standards which have to be met and how operators will be held accountable for them…be clear about how and by whom universal service obligations are to be met…ensure high quality information for customers” and have

“more customers rather than fewer.”

That is, do not have a few monopolistic health authority purchasers. The Secretary of State is nodding in assent that that is, essentially, his Health and Social Care Bill. This is, of course, the basic framework that the House of Lords is considering, despite the Deputy Prime Minister’s claim to have rejected

“the free market dogma that can fragment the NHS.”

A phrase leaps out of that 2005 speech, which, in the light of recent events, needs to be challenged. It is

“transfer risk to the private sector”.

While acceptable in theory, I wonder whether recent experience with the private cosmetic surgery industry has led the Secretary of State to reconsider whether and how, in the health context, that can be delivered in practice. In an NHS based on commercial contracts, would there not always be arguments about legal liability when things went wrong? Would it not be much harder to control quality and costs in such a way, rather than through the current planned and managed NHS system that we have?