Stur­geon ac­cused of ‘hypocrisy’ over cash deal

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Kirsten John­son

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.’

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