Posted on 30/04/2018 by
Dorset's new healthcare structure has come under fire from campaigners who fear the change could open the door to far greater private sector involvement in the NHS.
The health authorities, however, insist this is not the case.
Dorset's clinical commissioning group (CCG) adopted an Integrated Care System (ICS) structure on April 1 this year, bringing together health authorities and NHS trusts; according to NHS England, these new structures - of which Dorset's is one of the first ten - will help different areas of health and social care to cooperate more closely, respond to individual needs and 'help people stay out of hospital when they don't need to be there'.
But Giovanna Lewis from pressure group Defend Dorset NHS told the Echo her group was worried about the implications of the transition on health provision contracts, though it welcomed the principle of integration.
"We have concerns that this will allow the private sector to bid for large-scale projects," Ms Lewis explained. "We don't trust the private sector in the delivery of services.
"The ICS, for the first time in the 70-year history of the NHS, allows the tendering of companies to manage the whole of a large health area," she added.
"This means that there is now the opportunity for private healthcare companies to bid for, and get, enormous contracts worth billions of pounds, and set about managing large areas of our NHS."
She pointed to a wider trend towards greater private-sector involvement in NHS service provision.
"This idea that the private sector can deliver services better is itself very political," Ms Lewis argued. "If there was enough investment in the NHS, there would be no need for the private sector [in healthcare] at all."
Ms Lewis, a former NHS practice manager and patient services manager, called on the government to boost the healthcare budget. "[Staff] are leaving the NHS in droves because of the bad working conditions," she said.
"People just think that our leaders are sorting it out and it's all going to be OK, but it's not."
Tim Goodson, director of Dorset CCG, said the new system would allow 'more freedoms and more flexibilities'.
“Dorset’s health and social care organisations have agreed to work even more closely as an ICS, which further brings down the boundaries between organisations so that the planning and delivery of services makes best use of our collective resources," Mr Goodson said.
“This integrated partnership approach is not driven by contractual arrangements and absolutely not about privatising public services. For some time private companies have been able to compete to provide publicly-funded services.”
On June 5, a public meeting in Weymouth will be addressed by Professor Sue Richards of national campaign group Keep Our NHS Public; the late Professor Stephen Hawking was also a member of the group, which is behind a judicial review against the plans.
"Our free NHS will not be taken from us - but it will continue to decline," Ms Lewis predicted. "Queues will get longer, [while] services will be restricted or even removed altogether.
"Some say health is not political. Well, what is it then?"