Private companies are boosting their profits by up to 100% as the health service struggles to cope, shows a major investigation into the increased privatisation of health in England by Pulse magazine.
The investigation – the most comprehensive since the introduction of the Health and Social Care in 2012 – shows that local commissioners are paying hundreds of millions to private hospitals and that hospitals have also boosted their income from private work. An analysis of company reports and statements from all the major private hospital chains that make their figures available shows all have boosted their revenues this year.  They say they are gaining from the plight of the NHS, with patients more likely to pay for their care to avoid lengthening NHS waiting lists. Figures obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act also show increasing use of private hospitals by clinical commissioning groups, largely in an attempt to reduce waiting lists, with an 18% rise between 2013/14 and 2015/16. Other FOI figures from hospital trusts show they are taking advantage of their new freedom to carry out more private work (the cap was lifted in 2013) by increasing the amount of private work they do by 14% from 2012/13 to 2015/16, with one trust reporting a 36% increase in income – at a time it is being put through remedial measures due to the length of its NHS waiting lists. And a number of private companies are now springing up to take advantage of long waiting times for GP appointments, with one promising to deliver a GP on your doorstep in 90 minutes for £120. BMA council member and former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, who led much of the GP opposition to the 2012 reforms, says: ‘I am afraid that we are sleepwalking into US health system.’ Pulse editor Nigel Praities said: ‘Our investigation shows a real sea-change in healthcare provision in England. While the NHS crumbles, private companies finding increasing demand for their services. Chronic underfunding is degrading what is a cherished public institution and the Government is culpable for what amounts to an inexorable slide towards an increasingly profit-motivated healthcare system.’ But a DH spokesperson said: ‘This Government was the first to ensure that doctors, not politicians, make decisions about who provides care. In fact, the rate of growth in use of the private sector as a proportion of the NHS budget remains slower than it was before 2010. On the back of a strong economy, we are giving the NHS the £10bn it asked for to fund its own plan for the future.’ Read the latest issue of Pulse magazine online here. Pulse’s investigation was covered in the Daily Mail and the Times newspapers.