• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Agenda: Privatisation is not the answer to the problems our NHS might face

The group set up to challenge NHS for Yes, called NHS Together, should have checked that the name was not already spoken for.

They would have discovered that it is a campaign organisation of NHS groups and health unions fighting commercial competition either with or within the health service.

How ironic, when that is exactly the policy being followed in NHS England, a policy that the British Medical Association describes as market lunacy.

In their inaugural press release NHS Together suggested that, through voting Yes, we would risk losing the NHS in Scotland. But the real threat comes from a No vote.

In NHS England, services are being put out to tender between NHS and private companies with more than £16 billion worth of contracts awarded in the first year and 70 per cent of those going to private firms.This has led to fierce competition between NHS providers, it has undermined the collaborative nature of the NHS in England and it is destroying the integration of services.

The tendency of private companies to cherry-pick the simpler, more lucrative cases has left complex patients to be served by NHS hospitals and has led to 40 per cent of hospital trusts in England having huge debts totalling £330 million after just one year.

The franchising of NHS England is moving to a new level as four Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Groups put their cancer and palliative care services out to tender, with contracts totalling more than £1bn available for private companies to win.

As a breast cancer surgeon, I know that treating cancer involves multi-speciality teams, often across several hospitals. Integration and co-operation are key to delivering a smooth and safe service to cancer patients.

The idea that private companies such as Virgin Health or Care UK could easily just take over cancer services from NHS hospitals shows a lack of understanding of this complexity. The danger for NHS Scotland of a No vote is that Westminster controls the purse strings of any Scottish Government and George Osborne has already announced another £25bn worth of cuts after the next election.

Even if the Barnett formula survives a No vote, which seems unlikely, Scottish funding is based on the public spending of Westminster which will decrease as less healthcare in England is provided through the public service.

The main argument from NHS Together is that £200 per head more is spent on the NHS in Scotland. It is implied that this is a gift from Westminster. On the contrary, it is the Scottish Government that has decided to spend this extra money out of its block grant because it values an integrated, publicly funded NHS with no prescription charges.

The claim that we are subsidised by the rest of the UK is an old chestnut that is simply not borne out by the UK Government's figures that show that, over many years, Scotland has paid more in tax to the Treasury than has been spent here.

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie also implies that, if we vote Yes, we wouldn't be able to access specialist services in England. But NHS Scotland already pays fully for any treatment carried out in England and has formal Service Level Agreements for rare and specialised treatments in centres such as Great Ormond Street.

Indeed, a recent No Borders advert stating that children from Scotland would not easily receive their treatment was promptly rebutted by Great Ormond Street, which demanded that the advert was taken down.

The NHS in Scotland is far from perfect and faces many challenges but there is no problem we face to which franchising or privatisation is the answer.

On September 18 we need to take control and responsibility for our own future so that we can choose to consider our public services, not as "something for nothing" but as an investment in our people.

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

246003