Theresa May has backed a plan that describes NHS resources as a “source of untapped value” and called on the health service to take “a more commercial approach” to selling off its assets.
The Prime Minister was accused of backing the sell-off of parts of the NHS after she said she would implement the so-called Naylor Review, a 42-page report commissioned by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The review, published in March, calls for the disposal of NHS assets to the private sector, recommending that “inefficiently used” or unused NHS land and property should be sold to property developers.
The report suggests the creation of a “powerful new” NHS Property Board that would coordinate such activities.
“Releasing land from the NHS estate which is no longer required to deliver health and care services, is a major opportunity for the NHS,” the report says.
“The review has investigated the opportunities presented by releasing inefficiently used or unused land for other purposes, in particular for residential development.”
Ms May made the comments backing the implementation of the plan during her set-piece BBC interview, when she was asked how she would fund a commitment to extra NHS spending.
“There’s a report that was done on the NHS, the Naylor Report, which set out what was needed and we’re backing the proposals in the Naylor Report,” she told presenter Andrew Neil.
Her suggestions attracted criticism online, with one critical video blog accusing her of supporting privatisation going viral and being viewed tens of thousands of times.
The Independent has also been contacted by a number of NHS workers who are concerned about the issue.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth criticised the plans.
“Labour have repeatedly warned of the neglect of NHS infrastructure. Under the Tories hospitals are crumbling and as we have seen IT systems left dismally insecure because of Tory cuts,” he told The Independent.
“That’s why we will invest £10bn in NHS buildings and IT. The Tory response is to now sell off buildings and land with no explanation of when the NHS will see a penny piece of the proceeds.
“The choice in this election is now clear; investment with Labour to put patients first or the NHS going backwards under the Tories.”
The National Health Action Party said selling off public assets was the wrong approach.
“There’s huge amounts of money in property, and the public purse is a perfect stream of income, basically, for anyone who can get their hands on it,” said spokesperson Deborah Harrington.
“We own this, it’s ours. It’s been handed down through the generations since 1948. We all contribute to this society that provides these things, and we’re being told now they’re unaffordable unless we cannibalise them, constantly reducing our property and ownership.”
Some health experts defended the approach, however. Nigel Edwards, chief executive of health think tank the Nuffield Trust, told The Independent the NHS has “a lot of money tied up in land and buildings” and selling some of it off may not spell disaster for the health service.
“Making good use of the NHS estate can enhance healthcare and improve patient outcomes, but poor use of the estate can make being cared for a frustrating and uncomfortable experience for patients,” he said.
“The NHS is currently looking at how to make its land and buildings work better. Selling or generating income from surplus property no longer needed for patient care creates funds that can be invested to improve services. So the proposals under consideration, if done well, should help, not hinder the NHS in caring for more patients.”
A Conservative source said: “On the back of a strong economy, we are promising the biggest ever investment in NHS buildings and technology, £10bn, that will help to transform the quality of care for patients.
“In truth the only way to increase funding for the NHS and our public services is to get the right Brexit deal in order to grow the economy, something only Theresa May can deliver.”
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