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SNP’s £850MILLION bill for ‘private’ NHS work



By Georgia Edkins, Scottish Political Editor

22:02 08 Jun 2024, updated 22:02 08 Jun 2024

  • Revealed: Huge scale of nationalists’ privatisation of health service laid bare as contracts worth millions handed to ‘outside firms’

Scotland’s cash-strapped National Health Service has pledged to pay private companies £850 million to carry out NHS work in a desperate bid to ease pressure on its struggling staff, this newspaper can reveal.

A Mail on Sunday investigation today lays bare the enormous scale of NHS privatisation under the SNP government, as the beleaguered health service increasingly attempts to outsource its core day-to-day functions.

Since January 2023, contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds have been awarded to private firms – many of which are based in England, with some as far afield as Denmark and the Netherlands – to help with diagnostics, testing, X-ray assessments and treatments.

It means that, as the taxpayer-funded health service battles record waiting times and stretched resources, thousands of Scottish NHS patients and their records have been diverted to the private sector.

Core NHS Scotland work is being outsourced

Hospitals and GPs are increasingly relying on a cadre of privately employed staff to bolster their dwindling ranks.

Health Secretary Neil Gray and NHS Scotland last night confirmed the NHS records ‘private healthcare spend’ only if it relates to a patient being sent to a private company to have a clinical procedure performed.

They admitted their statistics do not include contracts for private agency staff, privately managed services for the collection and movement of products and other private services that support day-to-day activity, such as privately owned digital platforms – despite all those duties being a core part of the NHS’s remit.

Now, with the true extent of NHS Scotland’s privatisation revealed today by The MoS, First Minister John Swinney’s claims that he would keep the NHS in public hands and protect it from the threat of ‘Westminster’ privatisation have been drawn into sharp focus.

Last night critics slammed the SNP for its blatant ‘hypocrisy’ and for failing to get to grips with the crisis enveloping Scotland’s NHS.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: ‘This lays bare how staggeringly hypocritical it is for the SNP to criticise Labour for considering outsourcing and private contracts as a temporary measure to help with NHS capacity and drive down waiting lists. 

The SNP have the cheek to call themselves protectors of the NHS when it has been their failure to adequately strengthen the workforce and fund vital services over the last 17 years that has led our NHS to be in a permanent crisis.’

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘Scots will be shocked to learn that the SNP have spent a whopping £850m on the privatisation of our NHS in the last 18 months alone – something which my party has always opposed.’

This paper trawled through all the public contracts awarded by the main NHS procurement team, National Services Scotland, since January 2023. 

Not including the buying-in of vital medicines, the NHS in Scotland spent £850 million on outsourcing day-to-day activities.

Some of the contracts are for services which will be provided over a number of years.

Our research shows that, since the start of last year, £665,000 has been put aside to pay Cambridge medics to collect and test Scottish patients’ oesophageal cells to help the NHS diagnose for certain cancers. 

And German firm Fresenius Medical Care has been awarded a £7 million contract to provide at-home dialysis for patients.

A £30 million contract was awarded to firms to assess X-rays and other scans on behalf of Scotland’s NHS, with one in Norresundby, Denmark, given access to NHS patient records.

Another address listed on the procurement portal was for Medispace, based in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands.

One company in Harlow, Essex, was awarded a £1.9 million contract to dispense blood coagulants to homes across Scotland and deal with associated waste. 

Money is also set to be spent in the private sector on genetic testing of embryos before their implantation during the IVF process.

A firm in Cambridge was handed a £3.5 million contract to give Scots access to online therapy, with another company specialising in psychiatry allocated £13.6 million for similar work.

Meanwhile triaging for dermatological complaints will now be done online, with screenings to be carried out by Oxford clinicians for £561,000. 

A further £930,000 has been put aside for dermatology work, in part to ‘reduce the number of face-to-face secondary care appointments’, according to documents uploaded by the NHS.

Video-consulting services – used to reduce face-to-face appointments – are set to cost the health service £5.8 million.

Money has also been spent on ‘the provision of a range of inpatient procedures, clinics and outpatient services to support the NHS in Scotland in delivering comprehensive and effective healthcare services’, likely to include procedures such as hip and knee surgery, cataract operations and vasectomies.

But of particular concern to industry bodies such as the British Medical Association is that the NHS has set aside an enormous £750 million reserve to be spent on agency staff, with many companies supplying the workers being based south of the Border too. 

Other firms were awarded a further £33 million contract to provide workers.

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Iain Kennedy said: ‘The money being spent on locums should instead be put towards staffing the service properly.

‘Permanent staff are not only by far the more cost-effective option, they also provide the stability and continuity of service that best serves patients.’

Alan Taman, of campaign group Doctors for the NHS, lamented an increasing ‘reliance by the NHS on private providers to carry out basic services’.

To concerned taxpayers and experts, however, the need to outsource key activities may be a symptom of a service under extreme and ever-growing pressure. 

The NHS in Scotland is battling waiting lists that are at a record high, despite SNP pledges to eradicate long delays.

Mr Gray said: ‘The use of the independent sector to provide additional capacity is not a new development. 

As is the case across the UK, in certain circumstances limited use of alternative providers, within or without the local area, including independent sector providers, may be required in response to capacity constraints.

‘The figures quoted relate to a range of contracts including the provision of agency staff, digital platforms and other services.’

The SNP’s Amy Callaghan said: ‘The SNP will always protect our NHS and keep our health service in public hands.’

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