Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Privatisation Is Not The Enemy Of The NHS

There has been a lot said about the supposed privatisation of the National Health Service in the UK. It is a topic that can vex just about anyone who isn't fully informed about the positive effect the private sector can have with the NHS. Despite this, it has become a huge political football, with statistics being quoted in either direction to suit both arguments. There is a popular myth that this process started with the Coalition Government formed in 2010. It didn't. 

The fact is that the private sector has long been involved in NHS care. Typically, when units for specialist treatment cannot be justified economically, a private sector firm is paid to provide that care. Less than 10% of the NHS budget is spent on sending patients to private firms like BUPA. I somehow doubt that anyone would argue that this doesn't make good sense. Furthermore, private firms have the ability to specialise in these areas to the point that they are better than the public sector, providing better care.

I worked for a firm who undertook the practice of sponsoring nurses in a specialist field of care. Initially, such a practice was only adopted in England and Wales. Scotland took the moral high ground, stating that the NHS should be public sector only. Patients before profits, that was the mantra. Noble but, ultimately, it proved to be foolish. The particular area of care improved immeasurably in England and Wales, while it suffered in Scotland. It was because the number of patients involved did not warrant the investment. However, give it to a private firm, they can pool resources and then distribute them across numerous NHS trusts. Patients got better care, effectively at the hand of a private sector employee.

These private firms also don't make mega profits. They rely heavily on high turnover. Margins are incessantly squeezed by competitors and trusts. That is how the private sector work. They need to produce the highest quality, the best innovations and smoothest delivery, all for the lowest possible price. All qualities we want running through the veins of the NHS. Every penny saved in one place can be spent on care elsewhere. Prudence and progress are desirable qualities, yet hang a private sector label around their neck and it is the demon trying to eat our precious NHS alive.

Is private sector involvement flawless? No. There is no one who is so naive to think that. Yet it is not the enemy you think it is. It is an all too simplistic punching bag. Are people trying to make money out of the NHS? Yes, of course they are. Do you go and kick off at the guy in the High Street who is getting paid for trying to sign you up to a charity? Of course you don't. You appreciate that they have to make a living. Well, those private sector firms have to do the same. They employ numerous people. Those people pay taxes, all of which works its way back to the NHS.

Private sector firms or supposed privatisation of the NHS is not the enemy. The refusal to change the NHS is. As it stands, the NHS will slowly slide into destruction. Things need to change. Such as the nature of these things, that will come at a cost and cause pain to some. Those most likely to be affected are those all ready in the NHS. That is why a lot of them kick against it but we dare not criticise them. We should. We should not blindly support those who halt change in the NHS just because they work in it. Some of them are right, in that they do know a better way. Some, however, are caught between thinking about themselves first and not seeing the wood for trees. An open, honest debate is required about the NHS but it will never be effective until the NHS is no longer used as emotive, political chess piece. Sadly, we're a long way from that.

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