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Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021

Non-NHS healthcare providers given £96bn in a decade, says Labour

Non-NHS healthcare providers given £96bn in a decade, says Labour

Exclusive: Analysis reveals amount of money flowing to for-profit firms, voluntary groups and not-for-profits
More than £96bn of health service funding has gone to non-NHS providers of care over the last decade, including private firms such as Virgin Care, research has revealed.

The amount of money flowing out of the NHS in England to for-profit companies, voluntary groups and not-for-profits has grown from £8.4bn in 2010 to £14.4bn last year – a 72% jump.

Private firms received £9.7bn of that £14.4bn for undertaking work such as planned operations, CT and other diagnostic scans, and community services such as district nursing, according to the Labour party analysis of NHS England’s annual reports and summarised accounts.

Justin Madders, a shadow health minister, said: “It’s clear that under the Conservatives, spending on private health companies has spiralled out of control.”

He said the £14.4bn figure represented 11.7% of the NHS’s total operating budget for 2019-20.

The true total for the decade will be higher than the £96.99bn identified by Labour as it found no available figures for 2011-12 and 2012-13. Given the £8.4bn figure for 2010-11, the headline total is likely to be well over £100bn.

The coronavirus pandemic and a 4.7 million-strong waiting list of patients needing hospital treatment, mainly surgery, is forcing NHS England to use the private sector more and more. Last year it signalled its intention to spend up to £10bn over the next four years outsourcing work to private firms in an effort to reduce delays for treatment such as hip and knee replacements, cancer care and cataract removals.

The proposed spending is less than the £400m a month the Treasury handed to the private sector in the early months of the pandemic last year. The NHS in effect block-booked the entire capacity of private hospitals – beds, equipment and staff – as a way of maintaining normal care while NHS facilities focused on treating people with Covid.

Doctors say patients who needed vital care quickly got it as a result, especially time-sensitive cancer and heart procedures. The NHS in London sent more patients to private hospitals than any other part of the country.

However, neither NHS England nor the private sector have published a detailed breakdown of how many health service-funded patients were treated in independent healthcare facilities, and the Treasury was so concerned about under-utilisation of such a costly contract that last year it refused to renew the deal on the same terms.

Boris Johnson and the heath secretary, Matt Hancock, have repeatedly pledged there will be no further privatisation of the NHS and that it is not for sale. The forthcoming NHS bill, due to be included in the Queen’s speech on 11 May, will contain proposals to scrap duties imposed on the NHS in England by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to tender a wide range of contracts.

Labour’s analysis shows that the amount of the health service budget going to non-NHS providers has gone up every year since 2010, and notably after the 2012 legislation took effect in 2013. For example, the total of £11.5bn spent that way in 2014-5 was up £1.4bn, or 12%, on the year before.

Opinion polls have found that voters of all party allegiances oppose NHS care being outsourced. Last week dozens of MPs from across the major parties, including the Conservatives, attended a briefing on the issue by the campaign group EveryDoctor, a network of grassroots doctors.

Dr John Lister, the secretary of Keep Our NHS Public, said: “Upwards of £97bn has been literally siphoned out of an already inadequate budget, leaving NHS performance falling further behind. The reliance on private providers fragments and weakens the NHS, most notably in mental health where the extent of private provision is greatest, but also in elective surgery and many community health services.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have been always been clear that the NHS is not and never will be for sale to the private sector. The health service will always be free at the point of use and no one will ever be excluded from treatment because of the cost.

“Spending on healthcare by commissioners with non-NHS bodies, as quoted, includes spending with charities and local authorities, not just private-sector providers. All healthcare providers are legally required to register with the Care Quality Commission and follow a set of fundamental standards of safety and quality. Their sole focus is the delivery of high-quality medical care for anyone who needs it.”
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