Denton and Reddish MP, Andrew Gwynne, has written to the Secretary of State for Health to express his fury after an investigation by the MP revealed the Department for Health are unaware of the numbers of hospital procedures that have been transferred to private contractors in recent years.
Mr Gwynne MP, put down a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister of State for Health, Philip Dunne MP.
The Minister had to confirm that the Department of Health “did not hold the information centrally”.
Mr Gwynne contends that without figures from individual NHS Trusts the Department of Health will find it difficult to ascertain how well certain areas of the country are doing in terms of specific provision for every procedure.
In his letter the MP asked the Secretary of State to reconsider the Department of Health’s position in regards to the recording of the number of hospital procedures paid for by the NHS, but carried out by the private sector.
Department of Health figures show that £8.7 billion was spent on buying healthcare from the private sector in 2015-16, more than double the amount when the Tories took power in 2010.
Leaked NHS memos from November 2016 showed hospitals have been told by NHS England to discharge thousands of patients and pass some scheduled surgeries to private organisations to reduce pressure ahead of what has increasingly become a potential winter crisis.
The memos were seen by the Daily Telegraph newspaper and widely reported by them, in what has turned out to be a prediction of the current log jam in the NHS system.
This includes reports of newly admitted patients left on stretchers in corridors and requests by certain trusts including Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, for patients not to attend accident and emergency units unless absolutely necessary, due to the demand that exceeded capacity.
Andrew Gwynne said: “I was deeply troubled when the Minister revealed that they had no idea of how many private hospital procedures, which by the way are paid for by the NHS, have been transferred from NHS Trusts.
“If Ministers are not aware of how many individual procedures NHS Trusts are transferring out privately; then how can they accurately judge their performance?
“This shows what we’ve all known, that the Tories cannot be trusted with our NHS and will find every opportunity to tear it down, piece by piece.
“I will do all I can to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The MP’s view however was not accepted by local Tories including Conservative opposition leader John Bell who hit back saying: “This is absolutely ridiculous of course. Trusts have to engage private contractors if there is a need to deliver health solutions to the public free at the point of need, and it was Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that started it.
“What did they do for the NHS other than saddle it with £80 billion in PFI debt?
“They also started the process of privatisation and what is wrong with that as long as it delivers value for money and quality of service?”
He added: “The current Conservative Government has ring fenced funds for the NHS and ensured its funding increases are above the rate of inflation.”
“There is an obsession from Labour with public control over every service, which at its worst in the past led to strikes by public service unions and the winter of discontent. Each independent Trust is correct to base its decisions based on the needs of the community it serves at any one time.”
Relating the privatisation strategy of Tameside Council, Cllr Bell said: “The Council outsource so much to private companies, but if we had done it we would have had strikes on our hands.
“Why is it right for them, but suddenly not right when the conservatives use private companies?”
Conservative councillor Doreen Dickinson thought the problems of the NHS were structural and the service was in need of a holistic review. She said: “It was Labour that started privatisation in the NHS, they gave the GPs the freedom to contract out.”
She was adamant that the NHS is safe under the Tories saying: “Absolutely you can trust us to support the NHS, but we all must realise that though the original concept was excellent, society has changed but the NHS has not changed with it. There are increased demographic demands from immigration and an ageing population.
“But the current government is spending more money on the NHS than ever, in an effort to retain high standards and keep it free at the point of need.”
It seems that while the NHS budget is indeed protected, part of the extra demands on it come from bed blocking caused by many elderly patients remaining in hospital beyond the time that their immediate medical problem has ended.
In many cases patients are kept in hospital simply because it is not considered safe to send vulnerable people home, where they may quickly fall ill again without proper home and social care and support.
Although the NHS budget is protected it is not the case for the Social Care budget which has been cut by 11 per cent.
Add to this the fact that there are one million more people in the country aged over 65 than five years ago.
A shortage of GPs which means more than people 4 million attended Accident and Emergency and you have the recipe for a perfect storm overwhelming the capacity of the NHS..