Dr Chris Jones

Our National Health Service

I've worked in the NHS for over thirty years and like most of us I believe it is one of those things that make our country great. Not only because it is consistently ranked as the best and most cost-effective health service in the world - though it is: see the 2014 figures here. Not just because it means that when we are at our most vulnerable and frightened, we don't have the added worries of how to afford the cost of health care. But because it shows the best of human nature: how we can put aside self-interest to work together so that everyone benefits. The strong helping the weak, the rich helping the poor, the fortunate helping the less fortunate.

Everyone values the NHS, and every politician says that they will defend it. So why does it always seem to be in crisis? Why are politicians always trying to "fix" it when almost every other developed country spends more and gets less? I believe the principles of the NHS are fundamental to its performance, which is why contracting out to the private sector is so short-sighted. Nowhere in the world does a health care system based on generating profits produce better results. Did you know that over the last 2 years one third of the NHS services put out to tender have been taken over by the private sector?

4 reasons why NHS privatisation is so wrong

  • It adds huge transactions costs that produce no health care - well over 10% of the total budget. Recently my own Trust won £100K additional funding - not for doctors or nurses but to spend on legal and accountancy advice to help it tender for services it already provides. Money which could and should be spent on patient care.

  • It destroys joined up working and promotes short-termism. Like most others, my Trust has closed beds over recent years. Now patients in crisis get admitted to private hospitals in Darlington, Manchester, Somerset. And private providers walk away from contracts when it turns out they can't make money from them leaving the public sector to pick up the pieces - look at Group 4 Security at the Olympics. Of course Group 4 still keep bidding for and winning NHS contracts.

  • Private providers don't share the costs, only the profits. They don't train doctors or nurses. They don't fund research and development. They rely on the NHS to do all that for them, but they take the benefits. They cherry-pick the parts of the service that are profitable or straightforward, but they need the NHS to sort things out when there are problems - look at the scandal of substandard breast implants: most were done by private hospitals but it was NHS services that had to put things right, while the private sector kept the profits.

  • It takes public money to pay private business and shareholders. Genuine competition needs an excess of supply over demand so that providers have to compete for business. In healthcare there is never enough supply to go around, so private providers face no genuine competition but can make profits that go to venture capitalists and speculators rather than being used for patient care.

There are always going to be debates over how much we choose to spend on health care and where that money should be best spent. But large-scale privatisation advocated by the Coalition parties will destroy the basis of the NHS, leaving  fragmented and divided services, running down the long term investment to make quick profits, and taking that money out of the health care system altogether. Even senior Tories admit that the Health and Social Care Act has beentheir biggest mistake. Public provision of health care works, works better than the alternatives, and provides us all with cheaper, better quality, more reliable services.

Promoted by Alan Pawsey on behalf of Chris Jones; both at St Mark's Church Hall, Hall Rd, Norwich, NR1 3HL