Stormont calls for end to back door privatisation of health services

Amidst revelations in the Daily Mirror that over 100 services across the NHS are being run by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have called on Ministers at Stormont to bring forward legislation to prevent the privatisation of health services by stealth.

Amidst revelations in the Daily Mirror that over 100 services across the NHS are being run by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have called on ministers at Stormont to bring forward legislation to prevent the privatisation of health services by stealth.

MLAs narrowly passed a motion tabled by the SDLP with Sinn Fein and Alliance support following widespread controversy after health trusts proposed the closure of virtually all statutory residential care homes across Northern Ireland.

It came in response to the Northern Ireland Executive’s document ‘Transforming Your Care’, a plan aimed at reforming Northern Ireland’s health service, calling for health trusts to deliver more care in the community and recommending the closure of half of statutory residential homes.

Such was the hostility to the proposals, however, that earlier this month the DUP health minister, Edwin Poots was forced to put the plans on ice.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, however, have now passed a motion which expresses concerns that the Transforming Your Care plan “has enabled health and social care trusts to take decisions on the closure of care homes”.

It expresses concern about the “detrimental impact which the privatisation of many aspects of health and social care will have on vulnerable people”. It also urges the minister to “ensure that the patient and not profit is put at the centre of care provision by the Health and Social Care Board; and calls on the minister to introduce legislation to protect services from privatisation by stealth”.

Calling on ministers to “reform our existing system not to privatise it”, SDLP health spokesperson Conall McDevitt commented following the vote:

“We brought the motion to the Assembly…to allow MLAs the opportunity to reassert their commitment to the basic values of the NHS and social care system.

“We believe a health and social care system in public ownership and funded from the public purse properly focused on public health and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our society is the best model to meet all our needs. The challenge is to modernise and reform our existing system not to privatise it.”

Responding to the motion in the Assembly however, health minister Poots told MLAs that it would be dangerous, given financial constraints, to conclude that all private sector involvement in the health service is a bad thing. He told MLAs:

“The motion urges the minister to ensure that the patient, and not profit, is put at the centre of care provision.  Of course, that will always be the case, but let me be absolutely clear: that does not mean that the private sector is always bad; that does not mean that the private sector cannot help and assist us in delivering healthcare…

“Any minister who would veer away from that, retract and get frightened when the word ‘privatisation’ is mentioned by someone in opposition, and did not proceed to do that, would, in fact, fail the people of Northern Ireland because they would ensure that people got a lesser standard of care and would not receive the support that they should to enable them to stay in their own home.”

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