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NHS privatisation: Why the fuss?

surgeons operating - NHS privatisation

The words privatisation and NHS together are enough to start a fight in an empty room. But what exactly do we mean by it? And why does the issue make many so angry?

London's Cromwell Hospital, run by Bupa, does a good trade in NHS patients at its gamma knife radiosurgery centre. About a third of the patients with brain tumours seen there are sent by the NHS, costing the health service nearly £7,300 a go.

But even the most ardent critics of privatisation in England (it tends to be a debate which is focused there) accept this.

Why? Because the NHS only has a handful of such units as it hasn't been considered economically viable to open more. So when demand requires the NHS pays for them to be seen privately.

Dr Louise Irvine, of the National Health Action Party, which was set up 2012 to campaign against privatisation, says: "It's is a good example of how the private sector can help. It's not financially worth it for the NHS to have lots of these facilities so paying for them is the best way.'


So what is it that stirs the emotions then? It can be summed up in three words: profit, fragmentation and destabilisation.

Every year thousands of NHS patients are treated by the private sector for routine treatments, such as knee and hip operations. This is not because NHS hospitals cannot treat the patients, but because both the last Labour government and the coalition have encouraged private firms to get involved as a way to reduce waiting times and to offer patients choice.

Private firms have also been invited in to run whole services or entire centres - as in the case of Cambridgeshire's Hinchingbrooke Hospital until Circle pulled out recently.

Dr Irvine says: "The problem is that private companies cherry-pick what they want to do. They naturally do the easy stuff, leaving the NHS with the more complicated elements that are more expensive. That can cause real problems."



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