.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Labour hypocrisy on privatising the health service exposed

Nick Clegg reportedly told the House of Commons yesterday that the only Health Secretary to privatise a hospital was Labour's Andy Burnham. Despite all the protestations he has been proved correct and suddenly Ed Miliband's strategy for attacking the government over the way they have reformed the English health service is in tatters.

Over at the Times, David Aaronovitch nails the Labour position. He says that the official opposition have no credible plan for funding the NHS and are hiding behind alarmist nonsense about ‘Cameron’s market’:

But there is a problem with the way in which the word “privatisation” is being used. The NHS throughout the UK is — in most people’s eyes — distinctive from private healthcare in that patients are not asked to pay. The state picks up the tab. We call that “socialised medicine” and who then exactly provides the patient with a bed, or a nurse, an X-ray, a syringe or a diagnosis is a secondary question to patients. As long as it is done well.

It seems common sense that contracting a service to a private (or voluntary sector) provider is not per se privatisation any more than the contracting out of street cleaning. A council refuse collection is as much a public service whether carried out by council employees or a French-owned company.

Unsurprisingly the King’s Fund, the independent health think-tank, though highly critical of the government’s reforms, described the claim of privatisation as a “myth”.

Even so, and even under the principle that contracts for NHS England-funded services should be tendered out to “any qualified provider” (ie, not “any old profiteer who can turn a quick buck”), in fact the value of such contracts is low. Ninety four per cent of the value of contracts lies with NHS providers — 94 per cent. That’s practically a North Korean election result.

Back to Mr Burnham and his mission to destroy “Cameron’s market” (suddenly a bucolic image of a Witney street fair being set ablaze by Messrs Burnham, Balls and Miliband runs through my mind). Because it was indeed Labour who brought in the idea of any qualified provider. In 2006-07, 2.8 per cent of the value of NHS contracts went to the private sector. By 2010-11 it was just under 5 per cent. Now it is 6.1 per cent. How can this possibly be imagined as some kind of epistemological break between the days when Mr Burnham was the actual health secretary, and now?

It can’t. He is guilty of doing a reverse Lansley. He is slagging off for political gain the very things he championed in power, just as Andrew Lansley did the very thing in power (one of those dreadful “top-down reorganisations”) that he’d slagged off in opposition.

He continues:

Dr Chand, a Labourparty member, wrote recently that after 1999 Labour “marked the start of a transition of the NHS from a public sector provider to include the private sector under the disguise of choice and competition”. While disagreeing with his doctrinaire belief that the private sector is the devil and with his definitions of privatisation, Dr Chand is surely right about the direction Labour took.

So the obvious truth is that, for whatever reason, Mr Burnham has changed his mind fundamentally about private involvement in public medicine. It’s a full 180-degree turn, and he has done it, I would argue, not out of conviction, but to pacify his activists and scare the voters.

And quite possibly to divert them. As of now Labour, the party of the NHS, has (in common with the other parties) no credible policy for bridging the NHS’s coming estimated £30 billion funding gap.

The party has ruled out an increase in national insurance and the gimmicky mansion tax wouldn’t cover a fifteenth of it.

Oh for heaven’s sake, all of you. With the election due in five months’ time, and with the loonies knocking at the window, we need to do better than this.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?