Should we be concerned about NHS Privatisation?

Should we be concerned about the NHS being taken out of public control and put into the hands of businesses? Will privatisation and or TTIP put our NHS in danger?

 There is no escaping the fact that businesses exist to make profit for their shareholders. (1)

This statement was issued in the press recently. Let us not forget that a business exists for one purpose only and that is to make a profit. Does it therefore, make sense for a country that declares that the management of a health service is costing far too much to come up with the idea of privatisation as a solution?

The government put Hitchingbrook hospital into the tender care of Circle Healthcare, a private company with a history of delivering care. Circle could not make the profits required and thought it appropriate to return the contract to the government. Thus, once more the public purse is required to bail out a business failure, a scenario we are used to seeing in the UK banking system. Do not misunderstand me, I am not anti-commerce, I understand fully the need for money generating business that pay their taxes.

This article is not just about health economics; far from it. What I wish to do is provide a very brief history of the NHS, together with some personal experiences. I would ask the reader to consider whether or not this service would have developed to provide the range of services currently available, without public funding. I would also ask you to consider whether or not it is time for a change in the way healthcare is delivered in the UK. ­­­­­­­


Sir William Beveridge was an Economist and a Civil Servant. Beveridge recognised the inequalities that existed in the UK and put forward a report titled ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’. Please use the link below for more information.

The report was published in 1942, it was a very influential document which received attention from other countries; it led to the founding of the National Health Service under the stewardship of Aneurin Bevan. The first NHS hospital was opened on July 5th 1948 at Park Hospital Davyhulme, Manchester,  which later became Trafford General Hospital, a hospital I have had the pleasure to work in.


During my years working for the NHS I have seen tremendous advances in medical science. An increasing range of medicines, advances in surgical techniques that have allowed patients to be pain free and walk again thanks to artificial joints, premature babies who would once have died now survive, cancer victims now survive; the list goes on. Prior to these medical advances many patients did not live long or go on to live productive lives.

I have witnessed doctors sleeping on the ward so they could be close to severely ill patients, as this would allow the nurses to wake them should the patient deteriorate during the night. Such acts of compassion is not simply nostalgia, it allows the reader to understand the ethos of the NHS, an organization that has patients, not cost, at the forefront of its service.

I have also witnessed nurses, porters, catering staff, managers, clerks, physiotherapists, pharmacists, maintenance workers and staff in the many other disciplines who make up the NHS work way beyond the call of duty to provide essential services to ‘The Patient’. Those magic words were all it took to remind people why they work within what can arguably be described as the greatest institution in the world.

Contributions to the success of the NHS come from numerous sources: the staff of the many NHS disciplines, academic research from our universities, and the sharing of medical advances internationally. International co-operation underpins health care as a truly world wide family.

 The early years 1948-1959

July 5 1948 – The NHS is born Aneurin Bevan at Park Hospital

When health secretary Aneurin Bevan opened Park Hospital in Manchester it was the climax of a hugely ambitious plan to bring good healthcare to all. For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella organisation to provide services that are free for all at the point of delivery.

The central principles are clear: the health service will be available to all and financed entirely from taxation, which means that people pay into it according to their means.

Medical Advances (2)

1952 – charges of one shilling are introduced for prescriptions

Prescription charges of one shilling (5p) are introduced and a flat rate of £1 for ordinary dental treatment is also brought in on June 1 1952. Prescription charges are abolished in 1965 and prescriptions remain free until June 1968, when the charges are reintroduced. Find out about today’s prescription costs.

1953 – DNA structure revealed (2)

On April 25, James D Watson and Francis Crick, two Cambridge University scientists, described the structure of a chemical called deoxyribonucleic acid in Nature magazine. DNA is the material that makes up genes, which pass hereditary characteristics from parent to child. Crick and Watson begin their article:

“We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.”

Knowing the structure of DNA allowed the study of disease caused by defective genes. Read about today’s genetic developments.

1954 – smoking and cancer link established (2)

In the 1940s, the British scientist Sir Richard Doll began research into lung cancer after incidences of the disease rose alarmingly. He studied lung cancer patients in 20 London hospitals and expected to reveal that the cause was fumes from coal fires, car fumes or tarmac. His findings surprised him and he published a study in the British Medical Journal, co-written with Sir Austin Bradford Hill, warning that smokers were far more likely than non-smokers to die of lung cancer. Doll gave up smoking two-thirds of the way through his study and lived to be 92.

1954 – daily hospital visits for children introduced (2)

Until then, children in hospitals were often allowed to see their parents for an hour on Saturdays and Sundays only and were frequently placed in adult wards, with little attempt to explain to them why they were there or what is going to happen.

Pediatricians Sir James Spence in Newcastle and Alan Moncriff at Great Ormond Street made considerable steps to change this, demonstrating that such separation is traumatic for children. As a result, daily visiting was introduced gradually. Learn about children in hospitals today.

1958 – polio and diphtheria vaccinations programme launched (2)

One of the primary aims of the NHS is to promote good health, not simply to treat illness. The introduction of the polio and diphtheria vaccine was a key part of NHS plans. Before this programme, cases of polio could climb as high as 8,000 in epidemic years, with cases of diphtheria as high as 70,000, leading to 5,000 deaths.

This programme ensured everyone under the age of 15 was vaccinated and led to an immediate and dramatic reduction in cases of both diseases.


The NHS is under close scrutiny. Some may even say it is under threat of dismantling resulting in services being provided by for-profit organisations. This type of service is currently being delivered in the USA. Some politicians argue the only way to manage the health service is to put it into the hands of big business that know how to manage large complex organisations with very large budgets. The NHS has a budget of £113.035 billion, employs 1.388 million staff (3), putting it in the top 5 of the worlds workforce. How many businesses are there that can put up their hands and say, “we can compete with those figures?”

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You will hear a lot of political chatter about the cost of the health service and how we cannot afford it. Yet we find the money to bail out failed businesses. Why do you think there is no appetite amongst the politicians to have cross party agreement on the future planning and the management of the NHS ? This service is the killing field of political debate, each period of electioneering sees all the parties running the NHS flag up the pole with declarations of how the previous government got is wrong and how they are going to put it right. Sadly, the electorate do not fare too well either. Many people give little thought to the NHS until they need it and without exception they express relief that it was there when they needed it. During the election the Prime Minister voiced his gratefulness for the NHS when a member of his family required treatment. If you would like to lend your support to affecting a change in the way the NHS is treated politically, then please add your signature here:

I ask you to consider if you think it is time for drastic health care reform and if so, what should that reform look like.

I ask you to consider if you want the health service to continue providing the level of expert care we have come to expect and what you think we should be doing to ensure it does not die.

I ask you to open the debate with an open mind and to consider the words of Aneurin Bevan; “It will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.”

Referenced Material

1 Telegraph Newspaper Wednesday   June 17th 2015

2 NHS Choices website

3 NHS Confederation


John F Coppinger

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