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The allegation of privatisation of the NHS is wholly misconceived. It is a reheated and debunked myth that irresponsible elements have been trotting out for decades, and repeating it does not make it any more true. NHS outsourcing to private providers is being weaponised in a way that involves dressing it up as a threat to the NHS’s guiding principle that treatment should be provided free at the point of use and regardless of ability to pay. That is what people understand when the expression “privatisation” is used, but the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
That principle is fundamental, inviolable and enduring. It is all those things because it reflects so much about the kind of country we are and want to continue to be. It is the principle that says that when a member of the public is rushed into hospital needing emergency care, we take pride in the fact that the ability to pay is irrelevant. NHS staff are interested in vital signs, not pound signs. There is no appetite in this country for the Americanisation of British healthcare. Even if there were, I could never support it, my colleagues could never support it and the Government could never support it. That is why it is so important that we make that position crystal clear.
On the issue of outsourcing, we must not rewrite history. As moderate members of the Opposition concede, certain services have been provided independently since the NHS’s inception 70 years ago. Most GP practices are private partnerships; the GPs are not NHS employees. The same goes for dentists and pharmacists. Equally, the NHS has long-established partnerships for the delivery of clinical services such as radiology and pathology, and for non-clinical services such as car parking and the management of buildings and the estate. To give an everyday example, the NHS sources some of its bandages from Elastoplast. That is common sense; it would be daft if public money was diverted from frontline patient care in order to research and reinvent something that was already widely available.
That is why certain members of the Labour party have slammed this kind of argument as scaremongering. Lord Darzi, a former Health Minister, has been highly critical. In 2017, the shadow Secretary of State said on the “Today” programme that there may well be examples
“where in order to increase capacity you need to use the private sector”,
“the private sector puts its capacity into the NHS for the benefit of NHS patients, which I think most people in this country would celebrate.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 460, c. 250WH.]