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.
I fully believe in our NHS and its values, which is why I welcome that the Government has guaranteed that the NHS will always provide healthcare free at the point of delivery, regardless of ability to pay. Let me be abundantly clear: the Government will never privatise the NHS.
The use of private providers and the voluntary sector in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept, with the previous Government introducing the independent sector and competition into the NHS between 1997 and 2010.
With regard to general practitioners (GPs) offering private services, I recognise this is of deep concern to many people. As independent contractors, GPs are free to provide a variety of other services outside of their contractual requirements, which successive governments have regarded as private matters between the patient and GP. 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.
While I acknowledge the concerns raised about Centene's involvement in GP surgeries, patient care will not be affected, and all services remain free at the point of delivery. As with all GP services, those for which Centene is responsible will continue to be regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission. I understand that the CCGs where this has happened have followed the appropriate and robust processes prior to transfer of responsibility to Centene. The NHS has always involved a mixture of public and private provision, and it is absolutely not for sale to private providers.
The NHS is something to be valued and protected which is why I support the commitment to properly funding the NHS. Since 2010 the NHS budget has increased every year, and I am happy to say that despite challenging financial circumstances, the annual budget of the NHS is being increased by £33.9 billion by 2023/24, which has been enshrined in law.
Competition in the NHS should act as a means to an end in improving services for patients, never as an end in itself.