Doctors expressed their outrage on 26 June as they discovered the Department of Health (DoH) run by Jeremy Hunt will push ahead with a deal to sell off up to 75% of NHS Professionals – a staffing agency which reportedly saves the taxpayer around £70m a year.
The DoH owns NHS Professionals (NHSP), a private limited company created to supply a bank of over 90,000 medical staff across different NHS Trusts. The flexible arrangements apparently save the government £70m a year in costs while non-government owned private staffing agencies can be around 30% more expensive.
Consultancy Deloitte is running a sales process for a private supplier to buy up the majority share. And it could be sold for around £50m. In November 2016, when the private deal was originally initiated, the Minister of State for Health Philip Dunne said:
We want to see the company take advantage of this opportunity to expand its business, acting as a true alternative to expensive agencies
But doctors have hit out at the move, expressing their disapproval on Twitter:
— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) June 26, 2017
This is utterly ludicrous. NHSP is a great organisation which is designed to save on expensive agency fees. https://t.co/bm7mOpgGCN
— Tim Martindale (@timmartindale) June 26, 2017
Some also suggested there was only one direction the sell-off was heading:
Only one outcome here. The top bidder will start raising prices for temp staff, undermining the very reason for setting up NHSP. Perverse.
— mark veater (@MedgullMark) June 27, 2017
Nurse and midwife Sarah Holmes MBE, meanwhile, described it as:
yet another example of profit being made exploiting scarce NHS resources and people
NHS staffing crisis
The move comes as warnings mount that a staffing crisis is looming. A crisis which is leading to deteriorating hospital conditions. A problem which could mean a very difficult winter for medical staff and patients. Especially as one in nine nursing posts are already unfilled.
Agency staff currently cost the NHS £4bn according [paywall] to The Financial Times. The argument from government is that more investment will expand the capacity of NHSP to deliver cost-effective staffing. It remains unknown, however, whether the sell-off will enable savings.
Prior to the general election, Sky News identified Staffline as a potential bidder. Staffline already runs welfare and probation programmes for the government. Although their relative cost is fairly opaque.
The increasing privatisation of the heath service is causing alarm amongst health professionals and campaigners. And despite excuses provided by the government, increasing cash for private companies has simply gone hand in hand with longer waiting times and reduced staff numbers.
Cat Hobbs from campaign group We Own It sees only one party benefiting. She says:
The government has no evidence and no mandate for privatising our NHS. Yet [Jeremy] Hunt is picking it apart for profit, propped up by consultancies like McKinsey and Deloitte who make millions from the process.
This is the latest in a long line of measures that Hunt and his party have rolled out to place the running of the NHS in the hands of private companies; often done beyond the scrutiny of parliament. And with plenty to distract the public coming out of Westminster, we must watch the minister like a hawk.
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Featured image via YouTube