Time is short and many hon. Members want to speak in this important debate, so I will get straight to my points. There is no doubt that the recent winter crisis is the result of the Government’s chronic underfunding of our health service. I know it, Opposition Members know it and, most importantly, the public know it. Even the Government know that the crisis is down to the underfunding that has happened while they have been in power, so why are they doing nothing serious about it? The answer is similar to what they are doing with local government funding: they are doing nothing because they just want to push their ideological agenda of privatisation.
The Government know that hospitals must still provide services, and hospitals are forced to put many contracts out to tender under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The Government know that, willing or not, hospitals will eventually have to turn to private companies that can provide services to the NHS at cut-rate prices. One example of that back-door privatisation is currently happening at hospitals serving my constituents. Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been forced by Government-imposed budget restraints into planning to set up a private company to provide services that are vital to the people of Bradford, and that private company will actively seek to make a profit. Just let that sink in for a moment—hospitals are setting up private companies with the intention of making a profit for the hospital. That is how bad it has become, with hospitals needing to supplement their funding through whatever means possible. It is a slippery slope from here towards ever increasing privatisation and private company involvement in the NHS. Hospital trusts are services, but this Government are turning them into businesses.
Privatisation will not save the NHS from the ruin that the Government have eagerly forced upon it. The only way that private companies will be able to offer cut-rate prices is by cutting the employment rights of staff and cutting corners. That will not prevent another winter crisis; it will only encourage one, with private companies putting the safety of health services at risk. I am very concerned that the private company being established in Bradford will put safety at risk by lowering the rigorous hygiene standards, by cutting cleaners and slashing cleaners’ hours. Healthcare services should be provided by the best operator, which in almost all cases is the NHS itself, not the lowest bidder.
The Government need to recognise that the public will not thank them for privatising the NHS, because that will not solve the crisis in our NHS—only proper funding at the level the NHS says it needs will do that. We have to ask whether the Government want to be thanked by the public and their plans for the NHS are in the best interests of the public, or whether they want to be thanked by big business and their plans are in the best interest of big business. This crisis makes it clear to me which one it is.