As election vote canvassing reaches full tilt, healthcare once again takes centre stage of party debate.
The NHS is widely regarded as the single biggest manifesto ‘points scoring’ opportunity. It runs deeper than any other issue and as such is being treated as one of the electorate's top priorities. So much so that Labour kicked off its general election campaign with a damning dossier around the NHS missing half of its patient waiting time pledges in the past year.
Labour’s attack on healthcare provision seems largely two-pronged;
- The failings of the Coalition with regards to key NHS targets
- The desire of the current government to ‘privatise’ the nation’s most precious institution
Whilst certain facts cannot be ignored (Labour have gone as far to suggest seven out of 15 patient rights in the NHS constitution have been breached), the ‘NHS Privatisation’ and ‘profits before patients’ rhetoric is nothing more than myth.
NHS Confederation recently published an interesting piece on competition in the NHS. Their ‘myth busting’ facts put a very different slant on Labour’s privatisation accusations. Here are just a couple;
Large parts of the NHS are being privatised
Over the past five years there has been an increase of just 1.7% for NHS services delivered by the independent sector. In total they accounted for 6.1% in 2013/14
NHS hospitals are treating more private patients
Since the 49% income cap was introduced there has been very little increase in private patient income to the NHS. In 2013/14 this accounted to just 1% of total hospital income.
What’s more, whilst the above evidences how the balance between public and private healthcare provision has been sensationalised, Labour choose to pay little attention the superior clinical and patient satisfaction outcomes the independent sector delivers.
With NHS resources becoming increasingly squeezed, why is it not advocated that Independent providers can offer their hospitals for NHS care? After all, The NHS ‘tariff’ is derived from average real cost from across the NHS and is paid to all providers, whether public sector or independent.
You can’t deny that Labour’s focus around ‘NHS Privatisation’ is a smart play to the less savvy voter. To those with a greater understanding of the health space (and a memory) it’s a poor attempt at deceit. Once the irony is scraped away (I have yet to hear Andy Burnham concede the last Labour government themselves encouraged private healthcare firms as a way to reduce waiting times and offer patients greater choice) my overriding emotion is one of disappointment. Disappointment that these tactics wrongly attempt to alter public perception of the private healthcare industry and the understated, yet invaluable, role it plays.
Forget ‘profit before patients’. The next four weeks for Labour is very much about ‘votes before patients’.