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UK government 'plans' to reform NHS could reduce the role of private firms

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
Female surgeon typing on digital tablet in hospital or surgery. She is wearing a dark blue nurse’s top and has her stethoscope around her neck. She is looking at her patients records on her digital tablet and sending emails.
According to leaked documents PM Boris Johnson is planning to reduce the role of private sector in NHS England. Photo: Getty

The UK government could overhaul the National Health Service (NHS), reversing controversial policies put in place by former prime minister David Cameron’s coalition government in 2012.

According to leaked documents, PM Boris Johnson is planning to reduce the role of the private sector in NHS England.

Cameron’s policies under the 2012 Health and Social Care Act (HSCA) were seen as a step towards the privatisation of the NHS at the time.

The draft white paper, published by health news website Health Policy Insight also says that the health secretary would get more power under the changes.

Under the proposals emphasis is put on reducing bureaucracy and improving integration between the different departments of the NHS.

The HSCA introduced clinical commissioning groups — which had control over local healthcare provisions — moved some power from the health secretary to NHS England and provided a greater role for the private firms in healthcare.

The new plans show that the private and voluntary sectors will continue to have an “important role” but that their influence will be limited.

Instead of a system that requires a competitive tender process for contracts, the paper says the NHS and local authorities will be left to run services and told to collaborate with each other.

“Where competitive processes can add value they should continue, but that will be a decision that the NHS will be able to make for itself,” the draft White Paper says.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson declined to comment on leaks, but said: “The NHS set out the need for new legislation to support the changing health and care sector in the NHS Long Term Plan, and last summer the Health and Social Care Secretary outlined how we must apply the lessons of this pandemic as we continue to deliver this plan.”

The spokesperson said that the DHSC is “rightly considering where changes need to be made” to “build back better.” This includes everything “from tackling bureaucracy to driving forward the integration of health and care services.”

“Full details will be set out in due course,” the spokesperson said.

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There will be "enhanced powers of direction for the government" to "ensure that decision makers overseeing the health system at a national level are effectively held to account,” the document says

But lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic have prompted the government to “support” the NHS in a way that is “more integrated” “less bureaucratic.”

“The COVID pandemic demonstrated plainly that this broader approach to health and care is not only desirable, but essential. We have seen first-hand how different groups have been impacted in different ways by Covid-19, and how wider factors play a part in our health outcomes.”

The plans also shine more focussed light on GPs, hospitals and social care services working together to improve patient care.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has “welcomed” the plans commenting that they marked a “very big change,” but “the right change.”

Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that greater scrutiny is needed for private sector firms working with the NHS.

“If we are going to allow local monopolies to come back in the NHS, we need to make sure, in the details of these reforms, there’s a proper accountability mechanism,” he said.

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