Doctors accuse Ministers of ‘creeping NHS privatisation’

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Private firms have been handed a third of NHS contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds awarded since the Government’s controversial NHS reforms came into force, new figures reveal.

The findings today prompt doctors’ leaders to accuse Ministers of a “creeping privatisation” of the NHS amid concerns the changes are leading to the fragmentation of care, as well as further criticism of a lack of openness about where public cash is being spent, with details of hundreds of contracts being kept under wraps.

A study in the British Medical Journal today finds between last April and August, NHS providers won only 55 per cent of deals awarded by new GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) set up by Ministers.

Of 3,500 awards analysed, a third (1,150) went to private firms and another 335, around 10 per cent, were handed to voluntary and social enterprises.

NHS officials would only disclose the full value of 1,350 contracts worth £10 billion. Private firms were awarded deals worth £490m and voluntary and social enterprises picked up contracts totalling £690m.

British Medical Association chairman Mark Porter said the figures laid bare the extent of “creeping privatisation” from the reforms despite denials by Ministers.

“Enforcing competition in the NHS has not only led to services being fragmented, making the delivery of high-quality, joined-up care more difficult, but it has also diverted vital funding away from frontline services to costly, complicated tendering processes,” he said. “What’s worse is that there isn’t even a level playing field as private firms often have an unfair advantage over smaller, less well-resourced competitors, especially those from the NHS and social enterprises.”

But Bassetlaw GP Steve Kell, who is co-chairman of NHS Clinical Commissioners representing GPs, told the BMJ the new groups were open to new ways of delivering care. “We are looking at things which are different from traditional NHS hospital-based models,” he said.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “These figures are misleading - official NHS accounts show that use of the private sector amounts to only six pence in every pound the NHS spends, slowing the rate of increase to just one penny since May 2010. Charities, social enterprises and other providers of healthcare play an important role in the NHS, as they have done for many years.”

Separate figures also published in the BMJ today find spending on management consultancies by the NHS doubled to £640m between 2010 and 2014 despite a pledge by former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to “slash” it.

David Oliver, a former senior Department of Health official who obtained the figures, said: “In times of war, arms dealers, rebuilders, and racketeers profit from the chaos. ‘Disruptive innovation’ has led to similar spoils for management consultants, with taxpayers’ money diverted from already struggling health and care services.”