Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Profits Before Patients

Under John Major.s Conservative government in 1996-97, after 18 years of Tory rule, the NHS was spending just £200 million a year on buying in treatment from private hospitals and clinics.
By 2007, if the Labour government.s current proposals are carried through, this will have increased tenfold.

New private hospitals and treatment centres are being built, with more planned, and in some cases existing NHS facilities - built with taxpayers. money, or expensively funded through the Private Finance Initiative at the expense of the NHS - are to be handed over to private sector operators as part of the new arrangements.

Private sector preference

The government plan to funnel new money preferentially into the private sector rather that adopt the cheaper and easier policy of expanding NHS provision, has led to a dramatic expansion of commercial medicine. The private health care sector in the UK has always been a relatively small and marginal operation, feeding off historic NHS waiting lists, poaching NHS staff, shunning emergencies and complex cases, and focusing exclusively on acute (short stay) services: but until recently it was running with only around half of the beds occupied in its (generally very small) hospitals. Now a massive increase in the numbers of NHS patients being
treated in private beds means that the traditional paying patients will only represent just over half of the caseload in private beds, with as many as 45% paid for by the NHS.
This is effectively a huge cash subsidy to enable the expansion of a private sector which will inevitably draw on the same pool of human and financial resources as the NHS, but divert a percentage of those resources from patient care to pay dividends to their shareholders.

To foster an expansion of private care to enable it to develop a sustainable market., ministers have set out to bring in commercial health care companies from around the world, and also offered private hospitals very generous contracts, paying up to 40% above the prevailing costs within the NHS, lavish subsidies towards start-up costs for new private hospitals, and guaranteed payment even for those private providers who treat fewer patients than planned.

Far from delivering new and expanded services and capacity the private sector is
increasingly competing to capture existing NHS caseload, diverting vital funds from
NHS to the commercial sector.