Another Tory U-turn wastes millions in a “misguided” bid to privatise crucial NHS resources 

NHS Professionals is an NHS-owned solution to combating NHS staff shortages, supplying temporary staff to over 65 NHS Trusts across England. It plugs professional gaps while allowing 90,000 staff such as doctors, midwives, healthcare scientists, nurses to work flexible hours that suits them.

And it works so well it even saves the NHS £70 million a year.

And yet, Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, in his rush to privatise every potentially profit-making part of the NHS decided to sell off a 75% stake of this crucial publicly-owned body.

When this move came out last year, a chorus of disapproval from MPs, medics, unions, NHS trusts pointed out the madness of privatising this NHS body during the NHS’s record-breakingly bleak staffing crisis. – Selling off an organisation that makes a constant profit for the taxpayer, helps ease the NHS’s workforce crisis and avoids NHS trusts having to turn to expensive private agency staff.

Last month the Labour Party demanded an inquiry by the National Audit Office into the wisdom of this flash sale of a crucial publicly-owned body, and 95 opposition MPs signed an early-day motion calling for Jeremy Hunt’s reckless sell-off to be halted.

– And in another success for the opposition, this week the government let slip that the privatisation would actually be abandoned.

You might not have read about it as Health Minister Philip Dunne admitted the U-turn slipping out the news uncustomarily early at 8am on Thursday in a written statement.

According to Dunne: “NHS Professionals Ltd – a company which supplies flexible staffing to the NHS – will remain in wholly public ownership, after offers to buy a majority stake in the company undervalued its growing potential.”

The Conservative MP for Ludlow also admitted that NHS Professionals “currently holds a bank of over 90,000 workers filling more than 2m shifts, saving the NHS £70m every year,” and its profit for the taxpayer is rising.

“This is a major u-turn on a misguided policy from a Government with no solution to the workforce crisis in the NHS. Ministers tried to push through a sale behind closed doors but have been forced to abandon their plans in the face of wide opposition from NHS staff and patients,” said Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders, who had asked the National Audit Office to investigate the sale.

“With huge workforce shortages across the health service, NHS Professionals plays a crucial role in organising last-minute or replacement staffing. This is an effective and successful public body which saves the taxpayer around £70m a year on the Government’s own estimates by ensuring hospitals don’t have to rely on expensive private staffing agencies,” added the Ellesmere Port and Neston MP.

“At a time when the Government says it wants to cut back the use of temporary workers it is staggering that proposals for a sale got this far. Ministers have major questions to answer about why they tried to sell off this successful public body and how much money has been wasted in this process which could have been spent on patient care instead.”

Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, also criticised the waste of taxpayers money on management consultants at a time when the NHS is facing a growing workforce crisis: “despite many warnings, ministers have once again gone through a pointless exercise, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers cash,” she said.

“Instead of filling the pockets of management consultants, this money could have been better spent improving services for patients.”

According to a Health Service Journal investigation £2m public money was spent on looking into the sell off of the NHS body.

The battle lines between the Labour Party and Conservative government have been getting increasingly fierce over privatisation and outsourcing of parts of the NHS, with companies such as Virgin Healthcare snapping up £billions of NHS assets. And it is the second privatisation u-turn that the government has been forced into making in the past year, after a plan to see of the Land Registry was also roundly condemned and quietly ditched.

In a recent NHS staff survey, 47% said current staffing levels were insufficient to allow them to do their job properly and 59% reported working unpaid overtime each week.

@BenGelblum 

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