An analysis of the Conservative Draft Manifesto 2010.
"[We will] give everyone the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards… open up the NHS to include new independent and voluntary sector providers "
We already have the choice of which NHS healthcare provider we use. If you are referred to a hospital your GP will explain to you the NHS providers of the treatment and will answer your questions about how to find more information about those providers. (NHS Choices is a good starting place; after that you may decide to have a look at the Dr Foster
Quality Accounts Summary for each provider to see how they fare in terms of patient safety and you can visit the Care Quality Commission website to see the quality of care that the hospitals offer.) You GP will ask you to choose three NHS providers and in the comfort of your own home you can decide which of these NHS hospitals you wish to attend. This is real choice in the NHS.
So what are the Conservatives offering? The clue is in the second sentence that I have quoted, the Conservatives aim to include "independent sector providers", that is, private hospitals. It is important to point out that the NHS already commissions care from private suppliers, and this is particularly useful when the NHS temporarily lacks capacity. This is the right way to use the private sector, as a buffer of spare capacity to be used to ensure waiting lists are kept low.
The public has invested huge amounts of money in the NHS and so it is right that NHS funds for treatment should first be spent on NHS providers, and only if the NHS providers are unable to offer that care should the private sector be considered. The Conservatives are promising to allow patients to decide if they can use the private sector. This, in effect, means that the Conservatives are indicating that the private sector should be given preference over NHS providers and it implies that any capital spending on NHS providers has been wasted. The inevitable consequence of this is that it will lead in future to a cut in capital spending on NHS providers. This will lead to NHS hospitals becoming run down, out-of-date and turn into a second rate service. The Conservative party knows the full ramifications of this policy and they are fully aware of the potential consequences.
It also has to be said that this is the same policy as the failed Patients' Passport. This policy was formulated by David Cameron for the 2005 General Election, and the public soundly rejected it then. This time, the policy has been tucked away in the "Draft Manifesto" as an innocuous item in the hope that no one will notice (your correspondent, of course, has an eye for detail). Clearly David Cameron put a lot of work into the Patients' Passport in the early part of this century and it is understandable that he would petulantly insist that his idea is used again. However, it was wrong then and it is wrong now.