Please be assured that I have the highest admiration for everyone who works in the NHS. The NHS saved my life when I was 24. It was there for me in my hour of need, and I always want to make sure that it will be there for everyone else who needs it, irrespective of the ability to pay. I also have two children who work in the NHS, so we are deeply committed to it as a family.
The NHS is and always will be free at the point of use. I am committed to the guiding principles of the NHS, which mean the NHS is not and never will be for sale.
The overwhelming majority of services paid for by the NHS are provided by NHS organisations and this will continue to be the case. Service provision by the independent and voluntary sectors has been an important and valuable feature of the system under successive governments.
The proposals in the Bill dispense with the idea that tendering is the ideal default way to arrange healthcare services, and recognises that commissioners need a broader, more flexible range of routes to deciding who to contract with. The proposed new regime is being designed to allow transparency, scrutiny and due-diligence in decision-making. Patients should be able to access the best possible treatments and services based on quality; delivering the best possible outcomes, rather than basing any decision on the type of provider.
Integrated Care Boards will be NHS bodies, bringing in members from a range of other NHS bodies including NHS commissioners and NHS providers. Any accusations of “privatisation” are misleading.
These new commissioning bodies are public bodies and will not, and indeed cannot, be controlled by private providers. To put this beyond doubt, I welcome the Government’s amendment to the Bill to protect the independence of ICBs by preventing individuals with significant interests or views that could undermine the independence of the health service from sitting on a board. The amendment was not a blanket ban on employees of private companies because that would have been arbitrary and potentially damaging. It would have prevented suitable candidates, such as GPs, sitting on a board.
The King's Fund, an independent charitable organisation working to improve health and care in England, has said: "Some have raised concerns that this legislation will allow contracts to be awarded to new providers without sufficient scrutiny, opening the door to private providers. In fact, this is less likely under the new system."
I hope this has provided some reassurance about the Bill.