How a new re-organisation could hand more of our NHS to privateers like Richard Branson

So-called Integrated Care Providers could tear chunks off our health service and put them in the hands of private companies.

The government’s latest plan is to carve up the biggest chunks yet of our NHS and open those chunks up to privatisers like Richard Branson. 

Unaccountable, non-NHS organisations could be given contracts to run NHS services for half a million people, across a whole geographical area, for 10-15 years.

This means, for example, if you need a hip replacement and Branson doesn’t want to provide it, you won’t get one. It’s not clear how you can hold him to account or whether he’ll have any legal obligations to patients. Plus, you’re stuck for 10-15 years.

The government has already been forced to rebrand these absurd plans – and forced to consult the public. But we can stop them altogether.

The deadline for the consultation on these changes is Friday 26th October. And we need people to speak up. The needs of patients like you and your friends and family should determine what services our NHS provides. Not private companies angling for a profit.

Right now 195 local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are in charge of meeting your needs as an NHS patient. They’re not perfect by any means. CCGs are under huge pressure from cost cutting by the government. Some of them are rationing the services you can receive.

Services like hip replacements, fertility treatments and cataract surgery are already being restricted – leading to a postcode lottery for patients.

Nevertheless, CCGs are legally responsible for your care, and they can be held to account by you, by other patients, by NHS campaigners and by the public in general. They can be challenged when they restrict your access to care.

Victories have been won by holding CCGs to account. For example, NHS campaigners in Sheffield have saved vital services from being closed and in Worcestershire, plans to restrict access to hearing aids were dropped after input from patients and the community.

You can win victories when the NHS is accountable. But what about when your local doctor and hospital answer to privatisers like Richard Branson?

The new ‘Integrated Care Provider’ (ICP) contracts would mean CCGs handing over responsibility for patient care to organisations which are not part of the NHS. The ICP organisation may be private, a private-public partnership, or an alliance of NHS providers.

The contracts would carve up huge chunks of the NHS and put these unaccountable bodies in charge.  Contracts would deliver all NHS services for half a million people, across a whole geographical area, for 10-15 years.

The ICP organisation would not be subject to public scrutiny. It’s not clear how you would hold them to account when they can hide behind commercial confidentiality.

The new contracts might go to private providers like Virgin, Capita, Serco or United Health (an American company) or they might go to new public-private partnerships like Viapath (a jointly owned company created by NHS trusts and Serco to deliver outsourced pathology services).

Even worse, these contracts would last for 10-15 years. So your area would be locked in, long term, to an agreement with an organisation that you can’t hold to account. Your services might be cut, and you’d have no power to stop it. And it would be harder to reinstate our NHS as a national service in public hands, in the future.

This reorganisation would put outsourcing and fragmentation at the very heart of our NHS, opening the door to more privatisation.

NHS campaigners have been working hard to force the government to consult on these plans – plans which are being rebranded again and again because they’re so unacceptable. 

If we all speak up, we could stop these plans from going ahead. The consultation deadline is Friday 26th October.

Sign the petition now, and join us for the petition hand-in – sign up on Facebook or find out more on the Keep Our NHS Public website.

Cat Hobbs is Director of We Own It, the campaign group for public ownership. 

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