Private healthcare doesn't plug a gap in the NHS, it's the drain depleting the NHS's resources, writes Alia Butt
The pandemic has seen the NHS being failed worse than ever. After years of mistreatment and thievery, it was in no fit state to begin with. Now, after two years of overwhelming demand on a system propped up by the depleting good will of its workers, the NHS and its staff are wavering under considerable pressure. Those with the power to write and impose policy have weaved privatisation further into our public healthcare infrastructure; billions of pounds of taxpayer money have essentially been wasted, while the NHS that desperately requires it is further deprived.
After many hospital and department closures, public provision is naturally falling short. Recent figures show that we now have a record number of six million people on hospital waiting lists. November figures showed that we have more than 300,000 people waiting more than a year for routine care, and A&E wait times are so high that people are less inclined to access support despite their needs.
These extended wait lists are partly a result of policy, i.e. the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which legally forces services to allow private companies to bid on NHS contracts, despite this resulting in money being syphoned out of the NHS rather than recycled within it. Once the new Health and Care Bill passes, private companies will be awarded contracts without competition. The Health Systems Support Framework allows lists of companies – many of which are already involved in the commissioning process – to have special status when it comes to providing services.
Though private healthcare providers have been ‘helping’ us reduce wait times, they are also the reason this help is needed. Private providers do not reduce demand, but reduce supply. They take resources away from the NHS, and are then able to use its subsequent problems to sell the same resources back to us for a hefty price. Two years ago NHS England secured £10bn of government funding to do just that.
The bed crisis has meant that trusts are being advised to outsource beds to gyms and education centres with Sajid Javid promising nightingale hubs outside trusts to provide the capacity for more beds. It is all well and good to create provision at this desperate time, but common sense would suggest instead to reopen the units and departments closed in the name of austerity.
Financial sense would suggest utilising the resources that already exist (but are being stifled and killed off by the government), and are more efficient and effective than pop-up health centres. Instead NHS England imposes financial penalties on famished trusts when they fail to meet unachievably high targets. Javid has suggested an ‘academy style’ structure which will basically give more precious financial resources to managers, while hospitals with lower ratings will be reformed. Details of this are still pending.
The fact of the matter remains that the underfunding and undervaluing of the NHS and its staff impacts upon the care and consideration given to our patients. Fewer people are now able to access healthcare than at the start of the pandemic. Many people are left on waiting lists, never to be seen in time to save their lives, let alone to be treated with the care and consideration that staff join the NHS to provide.
Many of those who are able to access NHS healthcare are experiencing the result of the ugly marketisation now thoroughly polluting the NHS, a skeleton of the service experienced by those in the generations before my own. Many speak of the difficulty they have in acknowledging the demise of the NHS while carrying the shame the government so expertly brushes off. November figures show that now three quarters of the UK population do not want more privatisation and are concerned with the damage it is doing to the NHS.
There are many ways in which things could be done differently from the propositions set out by the Tory government. If we want to, we can keep the NHS going by bringing private staff into the public services, for example; something for which NHS Staff Voices will soon be campaigning. SOS NHS is a coalition of trade unions and campaign groups dedicated to the preservation and rebuilding the NHS. Check out the demands here.
Please support the campaign, or risk losing the capacity for free healthcare for the millions that need it, because a publicly funded and publicly owned NHS is the most economic and ethical way of providing healthcare for everyone.
Alia Butt is a Psychotherapist working in the NHS and is the convenor of NHS Staff Voices
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