The NHS and the private sector


Andy Burnham in Wythenshawe 7 February 2014 said:

“The NHS has always had a kind of pragmatic relationship with the private sector – to relieve pressure. because obviously you can at one point you can only have a certain amount of resource within the NHS capacity in the NHS. There have been times when the NHS has used the private sector to add capacity either on a kind of one off basis… When we were in government we had a more structured relationship with the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists. I would absolutely defend that because it was done in a way where they were adding value to improve services to NHS patients. The point being it was a kind of managed relationship. It wasn’t about an open competitive relationship between the two where the private sector could in theory replace the public NHS, and that’s the difference. My policy when I was Health Secretary was the NHS as preferred provider. That is to give priority to the public NHS. That is what I believe in. I think that is what the vast majority of NHS staff believe in. That core in every community of public provision which is about people not profits is absolutely the precious bedrock of the system. If you allow that to be chipped away at and just opened up to anybody then you do see the basic destruction of the NHS and what it stands for in the long run.

I don’t think it’s right to say that there is never a role for anyone else in providing an NHS service because sometimes voluntary or private providers can bring some innovation or some new thinking. As long as that is within that relationship where the main public NHS is protected and that extra support is given on a managed basis – than that is the way I would do it. Its a very different approach from the current government. As far as I am concerned I have looked in detail at all of this- this is not just an emotional thing. It’s partly emotional because you know I believe in the Danny Boyle appeal who else would celebrate their health service at the Olympic opening ceremony? A wonderful moment. That was brilliant.

But there are solid policy reasons why we do this. This kind of approach to Any Qualified Provider. The logical end result of that is that it just brings ever more providers on to the pitch dealing with one person. A GP was making the point before. It just brings fragmentation and increases complexity. The other thing is, if you look around the world, at health systems, market based systems cost more, not less than planned systems like the NHS. We are one of a small number of countries providing a comprehensive universal health cover to a good standard for less than 10% of GDP. Why would we throw that away? People on the Right often claim that the NHS is wasteful. All the evidence tells you the opposite. Its the most efficient way of providing good care to the whole population. Its never the case that its got to be monolithic NHS-only provision but that has got to be the core of provision in every community and that has got to be properly protected.