In spite of a slight wobble on Saturday (which was more due to a misunderstanding than anything else), the overarching theme of the Labour conference is that the next Labour government will stop the marketisation of the NHS that the Coalition government is introducing.
This is an apt time because the government have just announced the third phase of Any Qualified Provider (AQP): 398 services will be opened up to private providers. It is now that private companies will be making the decisions whether to seek the investment so that they can become an AQP provider.
Incidentally AQP has nothing to do with patient choice as was touted at the last election. It is commissioners’ choice. CCGs will be allowed to commission any provider, and in some cases will have to use private providers since the government regards a choice for the NHS to be an invalid choice.
The investment providers ill make is not insignificant. Yes, there are some that are relatively low risk investments (for example audiology, where there are already providers in the private sector, who will presumably seek to expand their business by providing NHS services). But other services, for example MRI and CT diagnostics, there are significant investments needed.
Ed Milliband’s conference speech said that the next Labour government will repeal the Health and Social Care Act, and significantly, it would stop the marketisation of NHS service: the NHS ill be the preferred provider. Private companies invest to make a profit and profit depends on gaining business. In the environment of flat funding it is even more difficult for a private provider to make a profit. To make a return on their investment they will need a sustained profit over a long period of time, and that includes the time after the next election. Ed Milliband said that when a Labour government is elected that profit is not guaranteed. It is possible that Ed’s statement could curtail the number of companies willing to become an AQP and could limited the policy.