While Fleet Street fixates on the possible privatisation of NHS services, up north they are thinking about nationalisation.
Troubled North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust is struggling with annual private finance initiative payments of more than £20m. Its plight was recognised by the Department of Health last week when it was put on a list of seven trusts eligible for a £1.5bn PFI bailout fund.
But Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust, preferred bidder to acquire North Cumbria, wants to explore taking the PFI hospital back into public ownership.
This is not ideological – the foundation trust suspects it would be better value for money. The financial crisis has sharply increased the cost of private finance, and PFI deals signed in times of easy growth are becoming more of a burden.
Just how austere future years will be was outlined by the forecast that 12 of London’s 18 non-FTs will be unviable “in their current form” by 2014-15.
If Northumbria’s plan works – and it has a long way to go – it will offer the ironic spectacle of NHS efficiency through increased public spending. But it is worth recalling the government’s response when the Treasury select committee proposed the same idea: “The government has set a clear plan for deficit reduction and does not accept that levels of public sector borrowing should be increased.”