In Depth

The pros and cons of privatising the NHS

Questions have been raised about sustainability of Britain's health service

PROS

Protecting free services:

One argument behind the increase in competition is that it gives clinical commissioning groups the opportunity to find better-value contracts – which will actually protect the key principle of free services at the point of delivery. Ministers behind the 2012 Act said competition would only be used if it is in the best interests of patients, and private companies would not be given any advantages.

Quality not dependent on profit:

An analysis by independent health charity The King's Fund concluded that for-profit, non-profit and NHS providers can provide high-quality care, and equally all sectors can fail to do so. "Whether a provider (public or private) makes a surplus/profit from its trading with the NHS does not automatically mean that quality of care is compromised," it said.

NHS needs help:

Partial privatisation is seen by some as a pragmatic alternative to improve the NHS. With the population increasing and people living longer, public spending on healthcare is likely to come under even more strain in the future.

Better patient choice:

Thomas Cawston, research director for Reform, claims competition puts patients at the heart of the NHS by giving them more choice. Patients will not know how much a service costs when they choose it as they will not be paying for it, so their decision will be based on quality not price, encouraging all services to offer the best care.

NHS already fragmented:

The NHS has always been made up of hundreds of thousands of different organisations and individuals, many of them from the independent sector, say the Conservatives. The party says the Health and Social Care Act actually creates a new duty to promote integration. Others point out that private sector operators are widely used in social care, pharmacy, dentistry and optical care. 

Click through to the next page to read how the UK compares to the rest of the world.

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