"What is being promised to private companies as part of this deal, and how much is being spent?"
A group of NHS campaigners – led by public ownership group We Own It – have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, demanding transparency on private hospital contracts, after the NHS signed a deal with ‘independent’ health providers.
Last Saturday the government announced an agreement with the private health sector, which would see private hospitals brought in to use by the NHS as part of the emergency response to coronavirus.
According to reports of the agreement, the government will only be paying the “cost” value of services, including operating costs, overheads, use of assets, and rent, with companies not profiting from the deal.
However, the NHS campaigners have stated that more detail is needed on the deal, claiming in their letter that “we deserve to see what is being promised to private companies here, for an indefinite amount of time”.
The letter calls on Mr Hancock to commit to four pledges:
- For the ‘deal’ to be made public – ‘every dot and comma of it’
- To end all of these contracts after this crisis
- To end all privatisation across the service as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over
- To adequately fund and guarantee sufficient staffing and beds for the NHS in the long term
Spire Healthcare, one of the largest private healthcare providers in the UK, said in a statement to investors that the agreement will run for ‘a minimum period of 14 weeks, and then on a rolling basis terminable by NHS England on one month’s notice.’
The company will make the entire capacity of its 35 hospitals in England available to the NHS from Monday.
Private health firms will receive ‘cost recovery’ for their services, including operating costs, overheads, use of assets, rent and interest, minus a deduction for any private elective care provided in the period.
The deal will reportedly be monitored through “open book” accounting and external auditors verifying the public money being used. But campaigners want to see the full detail, after a string of failed privatisations in the NHS.
“We deserve to see what is being contracted to private companies here, including staffing arrangements. As Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs offer their hotels to NHS staff for free, we repeat no profit should be made in this arrangement,” the letter states.
The GMB union say many of the private beds were simply “lying empty waiting for the wealthy to fall ill, while people are left in dying in hospitals for the want of a bed”.
Jeremy Corbyn branded private hospitals “disgraceful” for charging the NHS £300-a-bed for coronavirus patients before the deal was struck. Labour said the government should simply take over the hospitals ‘rent free’.
The letter from campaigners highlights that over 17,000 NHS beds have gone since 2010, meaning the NHS was under-prepared to deal with the crisis, campaigners say.
The Spanish government have taken control of all private hospitals indefinitely in the midst of the crisis.
Pascale Robinson – Campaigns Officer at We Own It said: “The government has taken a vital step in bringing private healthcare capacity into public control to tackle the coronavirus. But the devil is in the detail – detail that the public deserves to see. What is being promised to private companies as part of this deal, and how much is being spent?
“We know that private companies are hungry for long term NHS contracts, and due to a decade of bed cuts, patients were already being sent to private hospitals for treatment, channeling cash and vital NHS staff to private companies.
“And so, this isn’t just about the immediate crisis. It’s about ensuring we have a properly functioning NHS which is resilient to tackling future pandemics, once we’re through the woods on this one. That means ending the catastrophe of NHS privatisation, and giving it the funding it desperately needs.”
The open letter was co-signed by We Own It, Keep Our NHS Public, Health Campaigns Together, MedAct, Doctors for the NHS, Nurses United, GMB and Momentum. The full open letter is here.
A new memorandum from NHS England to private healthcare patients states the service should ‘never subsidise private care’.
Josiah Mortimer is Co-Editor of Left Foot Forward.
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