NHS privatisation accelerated during pandemic, doctors warn

Major contracts, including for the provision of contact tracing, have been given to firms that already have NHS scandals in their recent history.

6 Aug 2020| News

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that the privatisation of the NHS has accelerated during the fight against Covid-19.

In a new report, the doctors’ union documented a swift rise in outsourcing to private contractors over the last few months, in what Deputy Chair of the BMA Council, David Wrigley, called a “race toward a disastrously fragmented health system”.

New contracts went to DHL, Unipart and Movianto to procure, manage logistics of and store PPE; Deloitte was paid to manage the logistics of national drive-in testing centres and super-labs; Serco was hired to run the contact tracing programme; Palantir and Faculty A.I. are building the Covid-19 datastore; and Capita have been handed the job of managing the recruitment and return of health workers.

Wrigley described the contracting of Capita and Serco as “the most galling”, after Capita wrongly archived 160,000 GP records in 2018 and Serco provided false data 252 times in 2012 during the course of an NHS contract.

“This pandemic has already highlighted the disastrous effect of austerity politics on our patients and the health and care system – with once comprehensive public health services cut the bone,” Wrigley said.

“And rather than finding a moment of clarity in this crisis to reinvest in a publicly provided health service and build for a better future, the government has doubled down on its failures, choosing to throw huge amounts of money at scores of private firms,” he added.

Indeed, the contact tracing system – farmed out to Serco – has been widely criticised as an abject failure, and Wrigley described the UK’s testing programme as “consistently shambolic”.

“We are seeing this outsourcing being carried out with minimal oversight, governance or transparency,” Wrigley warned.

“There is no ability to scrutinise these deals and taxpayer money is haemorrhaging from the Treasury while a health and care system in desperate need of investment and resource is ignored.”

The BMA called for the inclusion of private outsourcing in any future inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic; transparency over the details of the State’s agreement with firms; NHS oversight of procurement, incuding that of services; a “substantial and sustained” increase in healthcare funding, and a “publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable NHS”.