Even before the government’s Health and Social Care Bill has passed through the House of Commons, private healthcare companies are increasing their influence within the NHS. Pulse magazine reported last week that private company bosses are set to be handed seats on the new NHS Commissioning Board, which, come June, will oversee commissioning of all primary care services and allocate budgets to GP consortia. The magazine also reported that 10% of GPs on the boards of the already established consortia also hold an executive-level position with the same private companies that will be bidding to be commissioned by them.
And yet much of the media coverage over the past week has been more concerned with private companies not being allowed to do their business in the NHS. The BBC’s health correspondent Nick Triggle reported on 29th March that, “many English trusts are introducing steps that make it harder for patients to opt to have NHS care done by private hospitals.” These steps, Triggle explained, included, “reductions in the range of treatments that private hospitals can offer NHS patients, caps on the number of people they can treat and promising NHS hospitals set numbers of patients” and that, “as many as 70 of the 151 [Primary Care Trusts] are employing such tactics.” This was repeated by other news sources, providing a platform for companies to complain about bias against them.
The evidence for the BBC story came from the Co-operation and Competition Panel, which had published the interim findings of an inquiry it was conducting on behalf of the Department of Health. The Panel's report confirms in its early pages that “certain PCT [Primary Care Trust] practices, as well as other factors, are creating an incentive for PCTs to limit patient choice" and the chairman of the panel commented in an accompanying press release that, “both NHS and independent sector providers are being hampered in their efforts to deliver the kind of choice that is expected by patients.”