Please be assured that, like you, I have the highest admiration for 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. Furthermore, one of my children works for the NHS and another one is about to start. Therefore, as a family, we are deeply committed to the NHS.
Moreover, the Government is clear that the NHS will always provide healthcare free at the point of delivery, regardless of ability to pay. This principle applies whether NHS-funded care is being delivered by an NHS, voluntary or independent healthcare provider.
Under the NHS Constitution, patients have “the right to access certain services commissioned by NHS bodies within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible.”
As we seek to reduce the treatment backlog built up during the Covid-19 pandemic, independent providers have a valuable role to play in reducing NHS waiting times, by allowing patients to be treated in a private healthcare setting whilst being funded by the NHS, freeing up capacity in NHS hospitals.
The Government is ensuring the NHS has the investment it needs to deliver better care for patients, providing an extra £45.6 billion in funding for health and social care to 2024-25. As set out in the 2021 Spending Review, NHS England’s day-to-day budget is set to grow by 3.8 per cent on average up to 2024/25, supporting the NHS to tackle the treatment backlog, and deliver its Long Term Plan. A further £2.8 billion in funding has been provided to support adult social care and discharge.
In addition, the Government is making the largest health capital investment in a decade, including the hospital rebuilding programme, and funding for new community diagnostic centres, surgical hubs and mental health urgent and emergency care facilities.
Procurement and commissioning processes are vital to ensuring that the NHS can provide the best possible care, including the adoption of innovation and efficiency. The Health and Care Act 2022 made changes to the requirement for local health bodies to competitively tender for some health care services “where it adds no or limited value”.
As independent contractors, GPs are free to provide a variety of other services outside of their contractual requirements. I am glad that there are strict safeguards within their contracts which prevent GPs charging patients for NHS care, or from using NHS resources to subsidise any private service in which they may be involved. The Primary Care Recovery Plan will be published shortly responding to challenges in this sector.
I strongly dispute the claims being made in the We Own It campaign about the use of private and independent healthcare providers to deliver NHS care. Even the authors of the University of Oxford study themselves note in their conclusion that: “our findings should not be interpreted as necessarily showing a causal relationship between outsourcing and mortality rates.”
I am proud to support a Government that is committed to improving standards of patient safety, wherever NHS or independent sector care is provided. This has included establishing the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch to investigate patient safety concerns, including care at private or independent healthcare provider settings.