Sunak seeks powers to boost flagging private sector

According to a recent report in the (£paywalled) Times, Rishi Sunak’s so-called “elective recovery task force,” steered no doubt by its private sector participants, is planning new legislation this summer to compel NHS commissioners to increase the numbers of patients sent to private hospitals.

The Times report quotes from a “leaked draft report” of the task force, saying it has “identified a range of barriers to maximising” the role of the private sector.

However the Times also sums up the legislation, misleadingly, as a step to “improve patient choice,” and “spell out the rules that the health service should follow when deciding to give contracts to private companies.”

Of course this is not new. The phrase “patient choice” was invoked ad nauseam by New Labour government ministers who in the early and mid 2000s first began to restructure the NHS and its finances to facilitate the use of private providers of clinical care.

But it was a misnomer then, because “patient choice” was from the outset imposed upon the NHS, by Department of Health bureaucrats signing national-level contracts for privately-run “diagnostic and treatment centres” and later a network of “independent sector treatment centres” (ISTCs), initially run by overseas companies.

It was all part of a New Labour experiment with using private providers of clinical care, after two decades of privatisation of support services. They aimed to turn the NHS from a planned public service into an artificial competitive market, in which NHS trusts and Foundation trusts would have to compete with private sector providers for contracts funded by taxpayers’ money.

Full story on The Lowdown, 12 April 2023