Privatisation and the NHS: A legacy of failure

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The Tory privatisation project is an unmitigated failure, putting NHS services in the wrong hands, writes Caitlin Disken

We’re living in a time when the NHS is under more pressure than ever. It’s already coping with increased budget cuts, rising waiting times, and a balooning difficulty in hiring doctors, yet with the government’s latest move, its problems just became a whole lot worse.

In the last week we’ve witnessed the latest wave of our healthcare’s underhanded privatisation. Bath and North-East Somerset’s Tory-led council have granted Richard Branson’s Virgin Care a colossal £700m contract to run services in the area. Not only is this incredibly dangerous, but it also undermines everything the NHS stands for.

‘‘They’ll seek to make more by reducing services, so general quality of care will inevitably decline’’

£700m is such a huge figure that it’s almost impossible for the everyday person to comprehend. So, let’s put it into perspective by thinking about what the government could, and should, actually be putting that money towards. With that kind of cash, you could provide care for just over 6 million A & E patients, provide training for around 1,100 new doctors, and build 8 or 9 average-sized hospitals. Yet instead, the government is throwing that money towards a company who already rake in the millions. Rather than investing money into the NHS itself, they’re trusting a company founded by a self-professed tax exile’, further reducing tax revenue and demolishing our public services.

With the recent disputes around Southern Rail, we’ve already seen that private ownership of public services end in disaster. The services you receive don’t improve – just ask anyone who’s ever been on a TransPennine Express train – and companies are generally less accountable for what they do. Take train prices, for example. Year on year, they rise, yet nobody ever notices an improvement in what they get for their money. And what can you do about it? You can complain to the company, of course. But when pound signs are involved, it’s obvious they will never do anything. Instead, the prices go up and the services continue to decline. This is the sensible fear surrounding NHS privatisation.

‘‘They’re trusting a company founded by a self-professed ‘tax exile’’’

As the NHS is such an integral part to all of our lives, public perception of the way it’s run is powerful enough to swing general elections. Every government knows that if the NHS declines whilst they’re in power, the public can easily turn against them and they’ll lose votes. So, it’s in their interests to run it well. A company like Virgin Care doesn’t have this fear. Yes, they may be making £700 million from the deal, but we all know they’ll seek to make more by reducing services, so general quality of care will inevitably decline.

Who will hold Virgin accountable? The odd patient may complain, but Branson’s friends in the Tory party will never end the contract. Throughout all the many failed privatisation efforts, not one has been reversed. Even if the contract is cancelled, it barely matters to Virgin, which will have plenty of other opportunities to cash in. Yet it does, and will matter, to the individuals who will suffer from a company like this taking the NHS, which should always remain public. For them it will be too late.

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