More than £1bn of NHS services are to be opened to competition from private companies and charities, including wheelchair services for children, writes Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian
The government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities, the health secretary announced today, increasing fears that it will inevitably lead to the “privatisation of the health service”. In the first wave, beginning next April, eight NHS areas – including musculo-skeletal services for back pain, adult hearing services in the community, wheelchair services for children and primary care psychological therapies for adults – will be open for “competition on quality not price”.
If successful, the policy, known as “any qualified provider”, would see non-NHS bodies allowed from 2013 to deliver more complicated clinical services in maternity and “home chemotherapy”. Admitting that the government’s initial plans for competition in the NHS were too ambitious – and stung by criticism by Steve Field, the senior doctor called in by David Cameron to review the government’s reforms, that the proposals were “unworkable”, Andrew Lansley has slowed down the roll-out of competition in the health service.
The health secretary said his plans would now “enable patients to choose [providers] … where this will lead to better care”. Critics, however, warned of “huge dangers lurking in the plans”. The trade union Unison said that “patients will be little more than consumers, as the NHS becomes a market-driven service, with profits first and patients second. And they could be left without the services they need as forward planning in the NHS becomes impossible.”
A spokesman for the British Medical Association questioned “the assumption that increasing competition will always mean improving choice. The ultimate consequence of market failure in the NHS is the closure of services, restricting the choice of patients who would have wished to use them.”