Last chance to stop NHS privatisation

Despite constant assurances from ministers as it passed through parliament that NHS reforms would not pose a serious risk to the future of our healthcare system by ushering in full scale privatisation, it has become clear that this is exactly what the government intends to do. However if enough Members take a stand against the government’s reckless corporate agenda, we still have a chance of sustaining a genuinely public National Health Service.

By Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party, Brighton Pavilion)

The impassioned tribute to the National Health Service during last year’s Olympics opening ceremony showed the world that it remains our country’s most valued institution.

So it’s no surprise that the Health and Social Care Act has proved to be one of the most reviled pieces of legislation in recent years – attracting massive opposition from across the medical profession and civil society.

Despite constant assurances from ministers as it passed through parliament that the ‘reforms’ would not pose a serious risk to the future of our healthcare system by ushering in full scale privatisation, it has become clear that this is exactly what the government intends to do.

Back in 2012, Andrew Lansley said that “there is absolutely nothing in the Bill that promotes or permits the transfer of NHS activities to the private sector.”

In a letter to Clinical Commissioning Groups, he said: “I know many of you have read that you will be forced to fragment services, or put them out to tender. This is absolutely not the case.”

Yet the secondary regulation for the Act spells out in no uncertain terms the plan to open up virtually all health services to private bidders in a market supervised by Monitor.

In a disgraceful act of duplicity, regulations published earlier this month under Section 75 of the Health Act create requirements for nearly all commissioning done by the National Commissioning Board (NCB) and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to be carried out through competitive markets.

Bringing all current arrangements between NHS bodies and almost all commissioning done by CCGs into a market framework – putting them at the mercy of EU competition law – will gift private providers with unprecedented rights to bid for services.

The regulations make it very difficult to award a contract without a competitive process which, as David Lock QC observes, will have the effect of closing down the existing option of an in-house commissioning process, even if this is what local people want.

They also make whatever Monitor judges to be an “unnecessary” restriction of competition illegal – effectively preventing one state body like the NHS Commissioning Board from making a new arrangement with another.

The government’s belief that it can charge ahead with these terms against the will of the people and against the advice of health professionals is symptomatic of the staggering arrogance we have come to expect from the coalition – not to mention a complete disregard for the democratic process.

There is still time to kill these plans before they pass into law on April 1st. On Monday I put down an urgent ‘prayer’, like an Early Day Motion, calling for the Section 75 regulations to be annulled.

Labour then approached me to ask me to withdraw and retable the motion to allow Ed Miliband to be top signatory, thereby increasing our chances of success thanks to his position as Leader of Opposition – to which I agreed.

The point of the joint motion remains the same: to force a parliamentary debate and allow MPs to vote against the regulations.

With Hunt now under pressure to review the regulations, I urge all MPs who feel strongly about safeguarding the future of the NHS and wish to represent their constituents’ concerns about the impact of healthcare privatisation to sign the joint motion today.

If enough Members seize this eleventh-hour opportunity to take a stand against the government’s reckless corporate agenda, we still have a chance of halting these damaging regulations and sustaining a genuinely public National Health Service which prioritises people’s health over company profits.

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