Campaigners in Hackney staged a demonstration yesterday evening in a last-ditch effort to stop the privatisation of the borough’s family doctor surgeries.
Up to 20 members of the local branch of Keep Our NHS Public, gathered outside Hackney Town Hall, holding banners and handing out leaflets as the borough’s Health Scrutiny Committee met inside.
Their aim was to raise awareness of the proposed privatisation of two planned GP-led health centres which will be built on the sites of the existing Oldhill practice in N16, and at Kenworthy Road in N9.
Plans to sell off contracts for the two clinics have been in place since last summer, but Hackney’s Primary Care Trust has not yet announced who they will sell them to.
Campaigners suspect they will sell off the contracts to the highest bidders – wealthy private healthcare companies with commercial interests rather than local GPs trusted by the community. A decision will be announced in two weeks’ time.
Bronwen Handyside, secretary of the Hackney Keep Our NHS Public campaign, hopes the demonstration will sway the PCT’s verdict in favour of selling to local doctors.
‘They say it doesn’t matter who provides the care, but it does,” said Ms Handyside. She claims that to provide healthcare for profit, large firms such as Care UK provide staff with poor working conditions. This means lower quality of care for patients, because only inexperienced doctors will accept the jobs.
Ms Handyside believes the majority of the people in Hackney would be against privatisation if they knew about it. “But [the PCT] haven’t consulted with the people of Hackney,” she said.
Hackney and City PCT declined to comment on its consultation procedures but said it had followed national guidance in selling the contracts. ‘The Department of Health requires that PCTs tender services on the open market in order to extend the range of providers and the choices available to patients”, it said in a statement.
Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said she hoped they will listen to the campaigners. “I have received assurances from [the PCT] about the quality of the service and working conditions for doctors. But I am aware of the public’s concerns around these issues and I share them”, she said.