SNP SINKS £30M INTO PRIVATE NHS CARE
Sturgeon accused of ‘hypocrisy’ over cash deal
SCOTLAND’S cash-strapped NHS is to pay companies millions of pounds to treat patients in a controversial move towards privatisation of the health service.
The NHS in Scotland is advertising for private firms to carry out traditional core functions such as performing surgery, running clinics, monitoring infections and providing follow-up for patients.
The £30 million contract, which will see health boards across the country given a list of approved ‘providers’, states procedures must be performed by ‘named, qualified and competent surgeons’.
The move, which flies in the face of SNP policy, was labelled last night as ‘humiliating hypocrisy’ by opposition politicians who accused Nicola Sturgeon of overseeing a workforce crisis in the NHS. Campaigners also called for assurances that patient safety will not be put ahead of profit and urged the Scottish Government to be honest about the holes in the NHS in Scotland.
The First Minister has repeatedly attacked the Tory Government at Westminster for the use of private healthcare firms south of the Border and said earlier this year that her MPs would vote against
any plans to privatise the NHS or cut health spending in England. SNP party policy also clearly states ‘we will always vote to protect the health service from privatisation’ and ‘always keep Scotland’s NHS safe in public hands’.
Speaking last year, Health Secretary Shona Robison said: ‘The Scottish Government is clear that health boards should use the independent sector as little as possible – only to deal with short-term capacity issues to reduce NHS waiting times. Rather than directing funding towards private companies, we are investing to improve capacity within the NHS.’
But The Scottish Mail on Sunday can reveal NHS National Services Scotland, which provides strategic support to health boards, is advertising for ‘providers with additional capacity to provide a range of inpatient procedures, clinics and outpatient services to support the NHS in Scotland in delivering comprehensive and effective healthcare’.
The notice states the new Dynamic Purchasing System for External Medical Services will be open to all Scottish health boards and include at least five private companies.
A spokesman for NHS National Services Scotland said: ‘This advert is to select a list of companies that could be used by health boards for sending patients to for the provision of surgical procedures. Boards may choose to use this option if they wish to source additional capacity to meet requirements.’
The new move represents a far more centralised and widespread approach than ever before and came under immediate criticism for not addressing the problems in the NHS directly.
Former GP and patients’ rights campaigner Dr Jean Turner said: ‘We need more doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, administrators.
‘We need more beds, more equipment, more operating theatres. We need to spend more money on these things if we are to save the NHS – not plug gaps by spending millions on private firms who have been waiting in the wings, desperate to get a foot in the door. It saddens me as it gives private companies increased scope to earn more money.
‘We need to ensure we retain a fair, attentive NHS rather than a system where private companies have to make a profit for their shareholders. It is not fair that big organisations make profits out of our taxpayers.
‘The NHS will be ultimately responsible if anything goes wrong – it is they who will have to deal with complaints.’
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: ‘Perhaps if SNP Ministers had made a better fist of running Scotland’s hospitals, it wouldn’t be forced into the humiliating hypocrisy corner it finds itself in.
‘Their workforce planning has been a disaster, meaning nurse and consultancy vacancy rates are the worst on record, and hospitals in the Highlands are being forced to strike deals with facilities in the north of England just to make sure patients get treated.’
Scottish Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: ‘Nicola Sturgeon must end her privatisation agenda and start addressing the workforce crisis in our health service by properly funding the NHS.’
A Scottish Government spokesman last night admitted the NHS was using private firms but insisted that they represented only a small percentage of the overall health budget.
He added: ‘Total private sector spending by NHS Scotland fell last year to just 0.6 per cent of the frontline budget, compared to 7.6 per cent in England, where use of the private sector is rising.’