Private companies are in 3-way fight for the biggest ever NHS pathology contract, just a month after the health secretary committed to prevent NHS privatisation. Labour has identified a further £128million NHS tenders in the pipeline and is calling for Matt Hancock to step in “to keep them in public hands”
It emerged this week that private companies are involved in each of the three bids to supply pathology services to a group of hospitals in London and across the South East, making it very likely that the new service will be outsourced. The £3bn contract is the largest of its kind and could run for 20 years.
Also this week, NHS England granted private provider Babylon Health the right to extend their digital GP at Hand service into Birmingham, despite objections from GP leaders and before a review can present its conclusions.
In a further development research for the Labour party has identified 26 NHS tenders that have been advertised and it has accused the Health Secretary of going back on his recent “concrete” commitment before a committee of MPs, that there would be “no privatisation on my watch”.
Mr Hancock’s statement had seemed to be part of a choreographed move away from market-based solutions within the NHS, and it followed a call from NHS England for ministers to abandon the controversial competition rules – a request that was written into the Long term plan and signed off by Downing Street.
However, despite the apparent accord between the NHS and ministers on the competition regulations they remain in place. NHS commissioners are obliged by law to advertise many larger NHS contracts, giving firms like Virgin Care the chance to bid.
Figures from the NHS Support Federation show that since these rules came into place over £25bn worth of NHS contracts have been advertised and nearly 40% of that has been won by the private sector.
In Comments to the Press Association Labour’s health spokesperson Jonathon Ashworth said
“This Health Secretary’s privatisation credentials become clearer by the day, whether it’s promoting GP at Hand to endorsing private dentistry to now allowing millions of pounds worth of health services contracts to be privatised,”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson responded: “We’re committed to providing world-class NHS services that are always free at the point of use and are investing £20.5 billion a year extra by 2023/24 to guarantee the future of our health service through the NHS Long Term Plan.
“These decisions are clinically-led by NHS experts and based on what’s best for patients.”