The privatisation of healthcare in east London amounts to “grand larceny”, George Galloway claimed on Wednesday.
The Bethnal Green and Bow MP joined healthcare specialists and union representatives at a meeting warning the public what selling off NHS contracts could mean for the East End.
“There’s no reason to doubt that we have an emergency,” he said.
Dr John Lister, a health journalist also speaking at the meeting, said Tower Hamlets would be hit especially hard by planned NHS cuts of £15 billion by 2016 because it recently invested in a new billion-pound development at the Royal London Hospital site.
The new hospital was set up as a private finance initiative, and Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust will reportedly pay nearly £100 million a year in rent alone to investors who will make an estimated £5.3 billion profit.
Campaigners are also concerned about the immediate future of GP services in the borough’s new health clinics. The Tower Hamlets PCT has put out to tender the contract for the planned St Andrews medical centre, and are due to announce the buyers this month.
Dr Lister fears a private firm will be chosen; in Hackney two new GP-led health centres were sold to large healthcare companies.
Privatisation, it is argued, leads to poorer conditions for patients and staff as firms cut costs to deliver healthcare at a profit.
Hackney and City PCT said of their decision: “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.”
Mr Galloway disagrees, arguing the NHS was being taken to “realms that Thatcher never dreamt of.”
Privatisation of the NHS: Q&A
Q: What is happening?
A: To ease the funding crisis caused by the credit crunch, the government will slash the NHS budget by £15 billion by 2016. In the historically deprived East End boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, this means estimated cuts of between £385 and £580 million.
Q: How is the NHS saving money?
A: It is planning to sell off contracts for individual services to private bidders. It also plans major restructuring.
Q: Which services have already been privatised locally?
A: St Paul’s Way medical centre in Tower Hamlets was sold to large firm Atos Healthcare in 2008 despite public demonstrations. In Hackney, the contract for two new GP-led health centres on the sites of the existing Oldhill surgery and at Kenworthy Road went to large healthcare firms.