NHS reforms created 'market lunacy'

The Government's health reforms have created "market lunacy" in the NHS, leading doctors have said.

The Health and Social Care Act has led to a "bumper year for the multinationals",  doctors said
File photo dated 07/12/10 of an NHS logo as the vast majority of the public think that MPs play political football with the NHS, a new poll suggests.

As a result of competitive tendering introduced under the reforms, the health service has invited health providers from all around the world to compete to run NHS services, the British Medical Association's annual representative meeting heard.

Chairman of council at the doctors' union, Dr Mark Porter, told delegates that the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act has led to a "bumper year for the multinationals".

He said: "How can we ever achieve whole and seamless care when so many services have to be touted to private bidders?"

Highlighting an ongoing review of NHS services in Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, Dr Porter said: "When I tell you about the next bit of market lunacy, I say it out of sympathy and not out of contempt.

"As part of the review, they wrote to a number of providers. They were looking for high-quality services they said, and wanted to know what they could provide and the data they needed. Anyone expressing an interest would have the chance to talk to commissioners.

"Now, you wouldn't just invite anyone in, would you? I mean, if it were quality you care about, you'd need to know the provider was up to it before you even asked them to express an interest? Otherwise you risk wasting everyone's time with all those meetings with commissioners that you promised.

"So who were good enough for Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes to ask for expressions of interest?

"Well, they asked Mid-Staffordshire, even though it's about to be dissolved. They asked South London NHS Trust, even though it already has been dissolved.

"They asked each one of those 14 trusts they mentioned with higher-than-expected mortality.

"They wrote to the usual suspects, of course, the healthcare conglomerates. But they also asked small hospital groups in the mid-west of America who may not have even heard of Bedford, Massachusetts, never mind Bedford, England.

"They wrote to an American provider offering 'faith-based' healthcare - as they put their own faith in this bizarre and burdensome approach.

"Somehow they were worth the prospect of all that paperwork, all that time digging out data, all those meetings that might have to be set up.

"They wrote to 500 providers. Five hundred. Let's imagine the bureaucracy that this could generate. Let's imagine the other commissioners that, right now, might well be doing exactly the same.

"Now, the Government will no doubt say that commissioning decisions are made locally. Monitor has told us that not all services need to be put out to tender. But whatever the reassurances, a bizarre market culture has been created."

He said this was "madness of the market", adding: "Do we really want an NHS that is so obsessed with private companies tendering for the work? Or do we want a National Health Service that is passionate about tending to the weak? It doesn't have time to be both."