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The chair of the Commons health select committee has called for a 'complete separation of the NHS from the private sector', claiming closer links are endangering free and comprehensive healthcare.

David Hinchliffe's attack was made as the committee last week continued to investigate the role of the private sector in the NHS.

In a foreword to policy thinktank the Catalyst Trust's pamphlet Public Services and the Private Sector, he said: 'We need to bring about a complete separation of the NHS from the private sector for the sake of preserving and developing the system of collectivised healthcare that the vast majority of the British public remain deeply committed to.

'The committee has been unanimous in its concern over the private sector's abysmal record in quality of provision and the way its draining of publicly trained staff out of the NHS obstructs the development of better services within the public sector.'

At last week's committee meeting, MPs were told by Jane Herbert, chief executive of South Manchester University Hospitals trust, that the trust had faced 'pressure' through its recent private finance initiative scheme to reduce bed numbers.

The trust built a new hospital wing and mental health unit involving£66m in private sector finance and£40m from public funds. She said: 'There is an additional pressure [on beds in the PFI] system in the sense of affordability and the front loading of the payments, and there is more pressure on cashflow than would have occurred going through the Treasury option.'

But she stressed: 'I am not saying PFI is the driving factor.' She admitted that despite the value for money analysis, the trust had 'no option' but PFI if it wanted to get its hospital extensions built.

Tim Stone from KPMG Corporate Finance, which advised on the Dartford and Gravesham PFI scheme, insisted reductions in bed space numbers were not a result of PFI but a product of 'conscious decisions' by trusts and health authorities.He also claimed that despite teething problems PFI schemes represented value for money, albeit 'marginal'.

His comments echo a new survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers which examined public-private partnership projects, including interviews with public sector managers, users and staff. It said: 'PPPs work. The benefits the public sector requires are being realised. The partnerships have delivered new infrastructure and facilities as planned, on time and, as far as the public sector is concerned, to budget.

'There is room for improvement in the shape of PPP models and in the roles the public and private sector assume. But there is also evidence that the difficulties, where they exist, are being resolved.'