The legacy of the harm done to the National Health Service by the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major has been brought into sharp focus by a new think tank report.
The IPPR think tank has published research showing that NHS trusts will have to pay out £55 billion to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) investors by 2050, having already paid £25 billion.
PFI was used extensively by the New Labour government of Tony Blair to bring desperately-needed investment into the NHS after the Tories bled the service dry.
Hospitals were found to be in severe disrepair and treatments badly underfunded when the Blair administration came into office in 1997, and PFI was considered the only option to restore the service to full functionality.
In total, £13 billion was invested in the NHS during the New Labour years. This will cost the service an eye-watering £80 billion by the time the contracts end in 2050.
It might have been possible to pay these off without difficulty, if Labour had stayed in power. But, as we know, that did not happen.
The Conservatives slithered back into office in 2010, supported by their nasty little yellow helpers, the Liberal Democrats, and NHS funding began to fall at once.
The introduction of private, profit-making companies into the publicly-funded health provider meant billions of pounds were siphoned off into the bank accounts of shareholders, rather than being used to treat patients.
And a huge amount of money has been used in litigation after certain private companies took to the courts to contest failures to gain contracts.
So, while the Tories have been able to claim that investment has increased, real-terms funding for the health service has fallen.
It is in this context that we see health trusts have been burdened with an obligation to use around one-sixth of their annual budgets paying off PFI debts.
It would be easy to blame New Labour for the fact that NHS trusts have been falling into debt. It would also be wrong.
New Labour did what it had to, in order to ensure continuity of care – and to keep healthcare up to date.
It was the Conservatives who forced New Labour into PFI by starving the NHS to the bone, and it is the Conservatives who are forcing the NHS into debt – once again by starving it of funds.
This is evidenced by the fact that the Department of Health has raided £4.1 billion from the NHS’s capital funding budget – which should repair the service’s buildings, build new facilities and buy new equipment – simply to pay day-to-day running costs.
Make no mistake – PFI was a bad idea when John Major introduced it to government budgeting strategies, and Tony Blair should never have been put in a position where it was the most acceptable choice to fund the NHS.
But if we’re going to blame anyone for the current situation, blame the Conservatives – because they deserve it.
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