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n4s_nhs1

If you’ve been following the mainstream news media, that’s probably forgiveable.

The fact is that the House of Lords will be debating – today – a so-called ‘fatal’ motion to annul the new section 75 NHS privatisation regulations, on the grounds that they do not allow clinical commissioning groups to employ service providers in the best interests of patients.

The strict wording of the motion is as follows: Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will move the humble address to the Queen, praying that “the National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No. 2) Regulations 2013, laid before the House on March 11, be annulled on the grounds that they do not implement the assurances given by Ministers to Parliament during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that NHS commissioners would be free to commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of NHS patients (SI 2013/500).”

These are the regulations that were withdrawn and rewritten very hastily, after a storm of protest over backdoor privatisation of NHS services last month. Now they are back before Parliamentarians again – and the prognosis is not healthy.

Even after the criticism that led to the re-drafting, the regulations require all NHS services to be put out to competition unless the commissioners can prove there is only one provider capable of delivering them. Such decisions could expose CCGs to costly legal challenges.

It means commissioners will be forced to open up – to private sector competition – any part of the NHS that companies think will be profitable, with very few exceptions.

This means funding could be drained from NHS hospitals as services are relocated elsewhere, and local health decision-makers will be able to do little or nothing to protect them from this starvation of funds.

Now, dear reader, you might be sitting at your computer wondering what all the fuss is about. If private providers get the contracts, it will be because they can provide a superior service at lower cost, right? That’s what this is all about, right?

Wrong.

Have you ever known costs to go down after a publicly-owned organisation was privatised? Is your gas bill lower now than it was in the 1980s? How about your electricity bill? Water? If you’re still with BT for telecommunications, is that bill lower than before privatisation in the 1980s?

Even adjusting for inflation, that seems unlikely.

No, the reason NHS services (in England only, of course, as health is a devolved issue) are being offered up to tender is to make fat profits for the greedy bosses of private healthcare companies, who have made themselves very close to leading members of the Conservative Party. Over the last few years, many questions have been asked about these connections – how much have these companies contributed to the Conservative Party over the last few years? How many Conservative MPs are likely to receive financial benefits from this outsourcing of funds?

If you have a Conservative MP, a Freedom of Information request about their own interests might be illuminating in this regard.

Think about the long-term effects. If an NHS hospital is starved of cash, this means it will be hard-pressed to provide whatever services remain with it – and these are likely to be the more costly and high-pressure accident and emergency-type services. These pressures could lead to more mistakes of the kind that have been filling up media headlines recently, and in any case the financial losses could eventually cause NHS hospitals to close – or be taken over by a private company.

What then? The only choice for people living nearby will be to go private, and pay for the health service that was previously free.

If you live in England, is that really what you want? To end up forced to pay – at great cost – for services that are currently free to everybody?

You’d better hope the Lords see sense this afternoon and send the government back to think, yet again.