Leaders of trade unions representing NHS workers have recently voiced concern about the growing number of private companies providing NHS care. Union leaders believe that this may threaten one of the core principles of the NHS: that treatment is to be provided free at the point of delivery.
Since the Government passed the Health and Social Care Act 2012, private firms have won £5.5 billion worth of NHS clinical contracts. This is a third of the total value of contracts put out to tender. This year, private companies have won 37 per cent of the contracts put out to tender with further tenders of £5 billion still up for grabs.
There have already been some high profile failures of private companies running NHS services, such as at Hinchingbrooke Hospital which was put into special measures when being managed by the private firm, Circle. From a financial perspective, large amounts are being spent by the NHS in drawing up and considering other bids from private firms and, of course, being available to deal with the consequences when a private firm pulls out, as happened at Hinchingbrooke.
In the UK, patients are not used to private companies running their healthcare services and the worry is that their interests, including their safety, will be second place to those of the shareholders. What is also uncertain is what redress a patient has should something go wrong in their care. Private companies can and do go into liquidation which can leave injured patients with no-one to turn to. Once again, the NHS can be left to pick up the pieces.
The Department of Health, however, has confirmed that only 6.3 per cent of the overall NHS budget was spent on commissioning private providers and that this is only when local doctors, in local clinical commissioning groups, decide that it is in the best interests of patients.
By Gemma Crompton, clinical negligence team