NHS shake-up which 'privatised' health services was damaging, minister admits

Private firms are being allowed to compete for too many services, George Eustice says, creating ‘fragmentation’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 23 May 2018 16:57 BST
Jeremy Corbyn attacks Theresa May over NHS staff shortages, cuts and privatisation

The NHS shake-up which led to greater “privatisation” damaged attempts to improve patient care, a government minister has conceded for the first time.

Private firms are being allowed to compete for many services, creating “fragmentation” and preventing health chiefs from integrating treatments, George Eustice said.

The admission came immediately after Jeremy Corbyn attacked Theresa May for allowing NHS services to be “siphoned off”, telling her: “It's jackpot time for the privateers.”

The Labour leader highlighted how Virgin Healthcare had been paid £1.5m even after its bid, to provide children’s health services in Surrey, was rejected.

Speaking moments later, Mr Eustice, the environment minister, admitted there was a need for “more integrated approaches” and to remove “some of the duplication” created by the 2012 Act.

Asked if parts of the Act would be abandoned, he replied: “In some areas there’s a little bit of fragmentation that needs to be addressed.”

He added: “There are some elements where it requires them to go to tender when it might be sensible not to go to tender.”

The 2012 Health Act was one of the most controversial of David Cameron’s years in office and is now widely viewed by health experts as a blunder.

The legislation allowed “any qualified provider” – private companies – to bid to run almost any service, requiring local NHS chiefs to put contracts out to tender.

Private running of services has risen sharply in the years since, clashing with a more recent NHS plan which seeks greater integration of primary and secondary care.

Mr Eustice, speaking to the BBC’s World at One programme, used the example of trying to join up adult social care and A&E services in his Cornwall constituency.

“You probably need a single piece of oversight over that, and one organisation doing that,” he said.

“So, in Cornwall – and this is happening with a number of care plans right across the country – you are getting the NHS working out how they can improve efficiencies by removing some of the duplication.”

Earlier during PMQs, Mr Corbyn said NHS outsourcing had soared from £4bn in 2010 to £9bn currently.

And he asked if the prime minister was “concerned that the National Audit Office said this week that NHS England’s handling of private contractors had put patients at risk of serious harm?”

“It's jackpot time for the privateers – their share is up by 100 per cent to over £9bn per year,” Mr Corbyn said.

And he added: “Why does the prime minister not act now to end the siphoning off of billions of pounds from patient care, and give the NHS the funding it needs?”

Ms May replied: “On the National Audit Office report, what they said was no actual harm has been identified.

“In relation to the particular contracts they were talking about, the savings made have all been reinvested in frontline NHS patient care and has helped to fund the equivalent of an extra 30,000 operations.”

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