Today the Health and Social Care Act comes into force. One of the things it does is split the NHS up and put the parts out to tender to the lowest bidder. This video is an interview with Dr Lucy Reynolds who is a research fellow at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and she explains exactly how this works and what it means for the NHS.
I have reproduced some of the transcript here. Read the full transcript at The BMJ: The future of the NHS—irreversible privatisation?
Lucy Reynolds: We’re not going to have a big bang privatisation for the NHS. We’re going to have a very quiet one.
What has happened is that all of the rules that control health financing have been gradually changed since the New Labour times. Overall, we now have the NHS reorganised in such a way that it can be relaunched as a mixed market, so not just the public health sector service, but also a healthcare industry. The rules are structured in such a way that there will be a gradual transition between those two groups. The public sector will shrink away, and the private sector will grow.
But because there will never be an announcement in parliament that the NHS is privatised, and because the private providers will be allowed to use the NHS logo for anything that they are getting NHS funding for, it is very likely that the general public will not be aware that the private sector has in fact come in and taken over whatever bits of the NHS it finds profitable until probably service provision gets fairly bad.
it sounds like a good idea to have diversity and options and these kinds of things, and that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the rules of the market are thoroughly stacked. We know for certain that organising [healthcare] as a public sector service is the cheapest and most effective way of providing healthcare. And that is broadly because the market model does not fit healthcare. The market model includes assumptions that both parties are in possession of all information about the subject of the transaction. In markets where the consumer has to rely upon the supplier for guidance, what you get isn’t a market that clears down to a minimum price and is efficient. What you get is soaraway inflation and abuse within that market.
If you pay doctors only when they do work, then they over-treat people. If you make sure that medical facilities have no way of making any money other than by selling things, then they become salesmen, not advisers and advocates for the public. And actually in the world we have one of the very best public services, and compared to other developed countries it’s also one of the most cost effective
The health service is being restructured on to an insurance compatible footing, and the CCGs are technically state-owned insurance schemes. So they are going to be taking on around 80% of the NHS budget and they are going to be parcelling it out to providers. They have been told that they are going to have a lot of autonomy in that and that they will be able to represent the interests of their patients in the matter.
That bit doesn’t appear to be able to be delivered when we have these regulations in place because what the regulations say is that commissioners will put out contracts according to competition law, and they will decide according to competition law. If anybody that didn’t get the contract feels that they don’t like the decision and that it could be faulted on failure to comply with competition law, they are permitted to complain to the sector regulator, Monitor, which is required to enforce competition law. So once everything gets put through the market, the CCGs won’t actually have any autonomy in the matter.
It’s not suddenly going to turn into a privatised service on 1 April. What happens on 1 April is a bunch of legal and operational changes that affect the way that the NHS functions internally. In general this reform is a health financing reform. So we’re finishing the transition away from the original form of funding of the NHS and moving into a market system which is going to be full-on market.