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Writers join experts to campaign to save NHS from privatisation

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 29 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:713
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. London

    Some of Britain's leading writers have joined a growing campaign to stop government plans to extend the privatisation of the NHS in certain areas.

    The poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and the authors Philip Pullman, Nick Hornby, and Clare Tomalin are among several unexpected public figures joining a campaign to “keep our NHS public.”

    They joined over 30 experts on public health, including the former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson, former BMA chairman Sandy Macara, and former chief medical officer for Scotland Mac Armstrong, to sign a campaign statement published as a letter in the Guardian newspaper (Sep 24: 31).

    “The NHS stands at a cross-roads. For nearly 60 years, Britain has enjoyed a National Health Service that strives to be comprehensive, accessible and high value for money,” the statement said. “Now, government reforms threaten both the ethos of the NHS and the planned and equitable way in which it delivers care to patients.”

    The greatest concern is that the government's plans to contract private sector companies to provide NHS services, including primary care and surgery, will create a climate of competition in the service. That could mean that in business terms some patients and some illnesses are favoured as more profitable than others.

    Increasing numbers of staff at public hospitals will defect to the private sector, while a growth in paperwork will eat into already scarce health funding, the campaigners fear.

    “There is no evidence that these reforms will improve the health service,” warn the campaigners. “Forced market competition will break up the NHS as a collaborating network… There will be winners and losers, with some units and even entire hospitals having to close. We are already seeing job losses and bed closures in NHS hospitals.”

    At this week's Labour party conference in Brighton the public service union Unison called for the suspension of “any further expansion of the role of the private sector into the NHS.”

    The secretary of state for health, Patricia Hewitt, defends the government's plans to contract operations out to the private sector as a way to reduce waiting lists. She has said she expects up to 500 000 operations a year to be carried out this way once the privately run treatment centres are up and running.


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