The NHS is hoping to borrow up to £10bn from private investment companies to pay for hospital repairs and equipment, it has been revealed.
Anti-privatisation campaigners said plans to seek hedge fund investment show how "desperate" NHS finances have become.
Health bosses will ask the Treasury to approve loans to create a new NHS infrastructure fund, according to The Times.
Tentative deals have been drawn up with a number of hedge funds and investment companies, reported the newspaper – but these can only go ahead with Government approval.
The NHS plans to modernise GP services, with more than 800 projects singled out for investment by 2019, according to a recent report on the future of the health service.
Better buildings and equipment including up-to-date IT systems are needed to allow family doctors to provide quicker testing and better care to improve treatment for cancer and mental illness as well as the challenges posed by an ageing population.
But a review into NHS property highlighted a £10bn infrastructure funding gap and said without investment, it “will remain unfit for purpose and will continue to deteriorate”.
Sir Robert Naylor, former head of the University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust and author of the report, told ministers that “substantial capital investment” was needed to improve NHS services.
On top of money from the Treasury, funds could be raised through land sales and private capital for changes to GP surgeries to help keep elderly people out of hospital, he said.
Clive Peedell, a consultant clinical oncologist and co-founder of the National Health Action Party, said: “How can it be cheaper to borrow from hedge funds rather than fund directly from Treasury? NHS finances are desperate.”
Interest rates are currently at a record low, making it a good time for the NHS to use private cash to help boost funding for infrastructure projects, said Jim Mackey, chief executive of NHS Improvement, the body which regulates health service finances.
“Historically low interest rates are a golden opportunity for the NHS but we are constrained by rigid rules around borrowing that prevent us from taking action,” Mr Mackey told The Times.
“We have to be realistic because we are not going to get a £10 billion cheque to pay for all the transformation under way and the massive maintenance backlog.”
Deborah Harrington, also of the National Health Action Party, told The Independent: "There is nothing good about this plan. The cheapest and most effective way to fund public services is directly from the Treasury.
"It's not that the Government can't, it's that they won't. It is yet another cynical handover of public assets to the private sector... now we will have hedge funds joining the feeding frenzy."
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
1/6 The elderly
“We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population,” Theresa May has said. Waits of over 12 hours in A&E among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to figures from NHS Digital.
2/6 Patients going to A&E instead of seeing their GPs
Jeremy Hunt has called for a “honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments”, saying that around a third of A&E patients were in hospital unnecessarily. Mr Hunt told Radio 4’s Today programme the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A&Es when they should not. He urged patients to visit their GP for non-emergency illnesses, outlined plans to release time for family doctors to support urgent care work, and said the NHS will soon be able to deliver seven-day access to a GP from 8am to 8pm. But doctors struggling amid a GP recruitment crisis said Mr Hunt’s plans were unrealistic and demanded the Government commit to investing in all areas of the overstretched health service.
3/6 Simon Stevens, head of NHS England
Reports that “key members” of Ms May’s team used internal meetings to accuse Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, of being unenthusiastic and unresponsive have been rejected by Downing Street. Mr Stevens had allegedly rejected claims made by Ms May that the NHS had been given more funding than required.
4/6 Previous health policy, not funding
In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge, Ms May acknowledged the NHS faced pressures but said it was a problem that had been “ducked by government over the years”. She refuted the claim that hospitals were tackling a “humanitarian crisis” and said health funding was at record levels. “We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need,” said the Prime Minister. “They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required… Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.” But doctors accused Ms May of being “in denial” about how the lack of additional funding provided for health and social care were behind a spiralling crisis in NHS hospitals.
5/6 Target to treat all A&E patients within four hours
Mr Hunt was accused of watering down the flagship target to treat all A&E patients within four hours. The Health Secretary told MPs the promise – introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000 – should only be for “those who actually need it”. Amid jeers in the Commons, Mr Hunt said only four other countries pledged to treat all patients within a similar timeframe and all had “less stringent” rules. But Ms May has now said the Government will stand by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95 per cent of patients must be dealt with within that time frame.
6/6 No one
Mr Hunt was accused of “hiding” from the public eye following news of the Red Cross’s comments and didn’t make an official statement for two days. He was also filmed refusing to answer questions from journalists who pursued him down the street yesterday to ask whether he planned to scrap the four-hour A&E waiting time target. Sky News reporter Beth Rigby pressed the Health Secretary on his position on the matter, saying “the public will want to know, Mr Hunt”. “Sorry Beth, I’ve answered questions about this already,” replied Mr Hunt. “But you didn’t answer questions on this. You said it was over-interpreted in the House of Commons and you didn’t want to water it down. Is that what you’re saying?” said Ms Rigby. “It’s very difficult, because how are we going to explain to the public what your intention is, when you change your position and then won’t answer the question, Mr Hunt”. But the Health Secretary maintained his silence until he reached his car and got in.
The British Medical Association called for the Government to act, with the union’s head Mark Porter saying the move “shows how desperately the health service needs more funding”.
And shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was “shocking” that NHS leaders were in negotiations with hedge fund bosses.
“Theresa May has refused to respond to the needs of crumbling hospitals, ageing equipment or provide the necessary investment in community facilities,“ he added.Reuse content