NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Sector Contracting To Aid National Health

May 17, 2001

British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to have thousands of routine surgical procedures each year performed in privately run "diagnostic and treatment centers" as part of a radical overhaul of the National Health Service (NHS). The proposal is part of the Labor Party's manifesto for the General Election to be held in the United Kingdom next month.

  • According to the Times, transferring procedures such as hip replacements and hernia repairs to as many as 15 private centers would cut waiting lists significantly, relieving NHS facilities of 200,000 operations a year by 2004.
  • Using the private sector to reform the public health system has already proven successful for the government, says the Times, with figures released last week showing that in the first quarter of 2001, English waiting lists fell by 26,100 to 1,006,600, compared with 1,158,000 in March 1997.
  • Most of this decline resulted from the transfer of surgical procedures to the private sector.

The Blair government's plan is similar to a proposal from the opposition Conservative party for stand-alone surgical units to perform a similar role. According to the leftist Guardian newspaper, Blair has more extensive plans for privatization, outlined in an as yet unreleased report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Blairite think tank.

  • The report recommends extending privatization to having private contractors manage some health authorities and primary care groups, says the Guardian.
  • The private sector could coordinate services for general practitioners, such as payroll, administration and computer support.
  • In the longer term, the private sector could provide health and community services for primary care trusts on a contractual basis.

And it calls for competition and greater diversity in the management of specialist centers -- such as those for diagnostics, cardiac surgery, neurosurgery and radiotherapy.

Source: Patrick Wintour, "Secret Reform Agenda Revealed," Guardian, May 16, 2001; Reuters Health, "UK to use private sector for routine surgery," May 15, 2001.


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