Radical healthcare changes shake up south-west London hospitals


Hospitals and their staff are considering their futures in the wake of David Cameron’s policy to cut ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ in the NHS.


By Joel Durston

South-West London hospitals and their staff are considering their futures in the wake of radical changes to healthcare.

In line with the Coalition’s general policy to cut ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ in the NHS, David Cameron recently spoke of his mission to ‘drive the NHS to a fantastic business for Britain’.

A justification for NHS Foundation Trusts – state health trusts like Chelsea and Westminster Hospital with more independence – is that they are ‘part of Government’s commitment to devolution and decentralisation in the public services, and are at the heart of a patient-led NHS’.

Parts of the healthcare system are also being completely privatised.

Last week the first private firm took over a full NHS hospital.

Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridge became the first NHS-run hospital to be privately-owned.

It had approximately £39m of debt and was taken over by Circle Healthcare – a private partnership valued at around £120m – in a decade-long £1bn deal.

The buildings remain in public hands and are still open to the public, however. Essentially, the management is outsourced.

However, since Circle is a ‘mutual’ and 49% staff-owned, doctors can share in profits in a performance-related pay scheme, setting a dangerous precedent to many.  

This sparked furious accusations in the Commons that it marks the start of more privatisation endangering jobs and services.

Circle plans to expand, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Bloomsbury and Whiston hospital on Merseyside are among others considering privatisation.

 “What we are seeing here, in black and white, is what we have been saying all along: that introducing profit into the NHS risks putting patient services under strain. This is a very real fear for patients at Hinchingbrooke hospital,” Christina McAnea, head of health at the public sector union Unison, said.

Even Circle has admitted there could be problems in their management of the hospital.

However, some argue privatisation is essential for hospitals to meet efficiency targets in tough economic times, and that the need to attract customers would incentivise hospitals to have lower waiting times and good safety records.

An NHS mental health worker interviewed, who wished to remain anonymous, said that healthcare in the UK is definitely going down the route of privatisation.

Her colleagues disapproved of this, particularly having to compete for contracts with businesses, which feels wrong in healthcare and has not been done before.

“The quality of the care will be impacted negatively”, she said. “You cannot put a price on health.

“There’s nothing to stop people reducing costs initially [to attract business], then waiving them afterwards. So it’s not necessarily driving down costs anyway.

“Even if it is, it is done at the expense of quality.”



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