The amount of NHS funding on private companies has once again been laid bare by revelations that half of £2 billion allocated to the NHS before the election in 2015 was utilised to treat patients outside the publicly-funded healthcare system.
According to an investigation by The Financial Times newspaper, approximately £900 million of the cash supposed to be spent on frontline services was ultimately used in order to purchase care from private and other non-NHS providers.
Health Foundation research indicates that only £800 million was spent on purchasing the same kind of care from NHS trusts.
The influential think tank stated that the figures indicated that NHS Providers do not currently have the capacity to deal with rising demand.
Campaigners suggested that outsourcing is neither a fit nor acceptable way to deal with funding gaps, and that it effectively represents privatisation of the NHS.
In his 2014 Autumn Statement, former Chancellor George Osborne had stated that the money for NHS England would “support the day-to-day work of our incredible nurses, doctors and other NHS staff”, describing it as a “down-payment on the NHS’s own plan”.
But it seems now that this suggestion was rather fanciful.
Alan Taman, speaking for campaign groups Keep Our NHS Public and Doctors for the NHS, acknowledged that outsourcing can be acceptable, but questioned the level and specific type of private sector utilisation taking place currently.
“What is neither fit nor acceptable is the systematic use of outsourcing as a way of addressing chronic shortfalls in service triggered by years of under-funding”.
Taman also asserted that staff shortages where having a significant impact on decision-making within the healthcare system.
“Desperate NHS managers are farming out the services they can no longer provide fully – to firms whose principal motivation is profit, not the best use of public money to give the fairest health system, and who cannot possibly be as fully coordinated as the NHS was set up to be. Example? Something goes wrong with your private procedure. What do they do? Send you straight back to the NHS to clear up the mess…What a complete travesty.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth understandably condemned the figures, suggesting that they point to fundamental failings in government healthcare policy.
“The public will rightly be alarmed that £900 million was spent treating patients in the private sector when our frontline services remain in desperate need of increased funding. Labour always warned that the Tory NHS reorganisation that no one wanted would mean taxpayers money flowing to the private sector and away from the NHS frontline. It’s a disgrace and Labour will reverse this Tory privatisation agenda.”
But a spokesman for the Department of health suggested that the report was indicative of diligent spending.
“This report simply shows the NHS is making clinical judgments about delivering high-quality care for patients. The truth is that for many years the independent sector has made a contribution to helping the NHS meet demand, now amounting to less than eight pence in every pound the NHS spends.”