17 August 2019 — WSWS
The Department of Health and Social Care’s annual report reveals that last year saw a record £9.2 billion of the National Health Service (NHS) budget going to private investors, such as Virgin Care and Priory mental health group.
The figures sink the claim made by Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for Health and Social Care, that “there is no privatisation of the NHS on my watch.”
There has been a continued expansion within the NHS of the private sector. The £9.2 billion last year compares with £8.1 billion in 2014-15 and £8.77 billion in 2017-18.
Paul Evans, director of the monitoring organisation NHS Support Federation, said, “In response to criticism, failures and waste, the health secretary promised no further privatisation. But since then the outsourcing of NHS services has rolled on and more services have become reliant on the private sector to deliver their core services.”
Evans noted that a third of hip replacements carried out in the NHS are now done privately and that community health and mental health provision have seen five years of continual gains by the private sector. The “accounts of the Priory Group, the largest mental health provider, show that 52 percent of its income of almost £800 million comes from the NHS.”
There are claims that in real terms the amount spent on the private sector has fallen, comparative to the overall NHS budget, from 7.7 percent to 7.3 percent. But this only reflects the slightly inflated and temporary budget increase under the Conservative’s Long-term Plan (LTP), which the government claims is a lifeline for the NHS. It conceals the fact that the LTP has been specifically designed to blur the lines between the public-sector and private-sector NHS contracts, through the use of Integrated Care Plans (ICPs).
Dr. John Lister, secretary of Keep Our NHS Public, gave further details on the scale of the operation of the private sector within the NHS. “Last year, roughly 30 percent of all mental health spending was in the private sector and 44 percent of spending on child and adolescent mental health goes to private providers. Private sector domination is most complete in the provision of controversial ‘locked ward rehabilitation,’ in which a massive 97 percent of a £304 million market in 2015 was held by private companies.”
Writing in the Guardian last month—prior to Boris Johnson replacing Theresa May as prime minister, Lister warned, “The full picture is much more alarming with the added prospect of a Johnson government putting the NHS ‘on the table’ in any future US trade negotiations.”
The latest corporation to get its tentacles into the NHS is Amazon, one of the largest private sector firms on the planet, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest individual. Amazon’s Alexa technology is to be used to give health care advice to users in their home. Alexa is the voice-activated intelligent personal assistant accessed via Amazon’s Echo smart speaker device.
The government announced last month that Amazon would be collaborating with the NHS to allow the Alexa assistant, through algorithms, to answer health-related queries via the NHS website. The partnership has been touted by the Department of Health as having the potential to greatly reduce the strain on the overburdened and underfunded NHS.
Matthew Gould, chief executive of the digital wing of the NHS (NHSX), said, “Part of our mission at NHSX is to give citizens the tools to access services and information directly, and partnerships such as this are an important part of achieving this.”
Health Secretary Hancock, stated, “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare.”