Lip-smacking profits of £20bn for the private sector are today revealed in a prospectus sent out by Catalyst, corporate finance advisers specialising in healthcare. It notes that already contracts worth £500m have been won by the private sector to provide NHS services. They are now eyeing up the £8.3bn spent each year on GP services as well as the £8.5bn community health services budget of which they expect to capture a fifth by 2020. What is new however is how they expect to get it, and that too is now becoming clear. It’s not of course by competition on a level playing field – the private sector would lose hands down every time on that basis – it’s by rigging the market which Blair started over independent treatment centres and the Tories are now extending much further.
How’s it done? Rule 1 is bankrupt a number of hospitals by the £20bn financial squeeze on the NHS. The South London Healthcare NHS Trust is already in administration because of its unpayable debts, and many others are clearly being driven down that route too. Among the Foundation Trusts which were supposed to be the copper-bottomed solid base of the Blair reforms, Peterborough is now £50m a year in debt, and again there are many following behind in similar distress. This process of gradual evisceration is being given a hearty strengthening by the regulator, Monitor, reducing tariff charges which by cutting hospitals’ income will rapidly hasten the demise of the weaker brethren.
Rule 2 is undermine NHS hospitals by draconian referral criteria which severely ration treatments and thus cut the number of operations and thence hospital income. This is already happening for hip and knee replacement which is being withheld until people can no longer cope independently, even though means keeping more than 100,000 on the waiting lists for more than 18 weeks.
Rule 3 is to take advantage of these huge and growing lists of people denied NHS treatment by administrative restrictions through generating a massive increase in private sector work within the NHS. Under Labour general hospitals were restricted to just 2-3% of their facilities being used for private practice. The Tories have extended that to no less than 49%, and in addition insurance companies are enjoying a binanza offering top-up cover to fill the gaps left by thr NHS being forced to withdraw.
Rule 4 is push the burgeoning takeover of GP surgeries by private companies, many of them US healthcare multi-nationals. Cameron must be pleased that so many were taken in by his slogan: “I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS” when of course what he really meant was the precise reverse.