'We shouldn't be scared of the private sector'

Woman with a stethoscope
Image caption 'Individuals should be able to choose where they get their healthcare'

There has been strong opposition to the idea of the private sector having more involvement in providing NHS care. But in this wek's Scrubbing Up column, Matt James of the Private Hospitals Alliance says we should not be sqeamish about using the sector's expertise - and allowing individuals to choose who gives them healthcare.

Just like the NHS, the BBC is a great institution. It's one of the things about Britain that makes us all proud. Contribution to its funding is compulsory, delivery is free.

You probably like it since you're here reading this website.

The chances are that you also read other news websites. Perhaps you read a newspaper as well or even watch a non-BBC TV channel.

But why? Why do you need a choice? Why would you want more than the BBC as a source of news and information? Why would you pay for a newspaper or put up with TV advertising when you've already paid for the BBC?

Hardly anyone thinks that we'd be better off if our only source of news was the BBC.

We also believe in a free press, and would robustly defend our right to read whatever we choose.

Although we know newspaper owners are there to make money, we believe that most editors and journalists have some integrity and are committed to bringing us accurate news.

How strange, then, that the reverse is true for the NHS.

When it comes to our health, anybody who believes in freedom of choice, as I do, has to argue that it's a good idea.

In health, a state monopoly is simply accepted, and choice and competition seem dangerous.

'Be sceptical of preaching'

I disagree.

The best thing about the NHS is fairness. It's the promise that when we need it, it will be there. We won't need to worry about how to pay for it and nobody is excluded.

Not only is this emotionally appealing, it makes economic and political sense.

The USA spends more per capita on public healthcare than we do, yet many millions more people must still pay their own way.

I believe this is a direct result of failing to care for those people who face the greatest healthcare problems.

I also believe in personal choice and freedom. There's far too much fear and anger in the debates about our health system and I encourage you to be sceptical of anyone preaching that you're better off with less choice and control, or with a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare.


I support the NHS. Of course I do.

Despite working closely with private healthcare, I use the NHS more than I use private hospitals. My GP is an NHS GP, my daughters were born in NHS maternity wards and if they hurt themselves I'll call an NHS ambulance.

There's no such thing as a private patient, only people who choose to receive some of their healthcare privately.

People who can afford it have always had choice, control and access to private hospitals.

But, that same choice has not been shared by the vast majority of NHS patients.

So why not let more people have more choices about where and how they are treated? Choice for patients doesn't undermine or harm the NHS, it improves it.

Hundreds of thousands of NHS patients do choose independent hospitals each year.

Yet this is continues to be a tiny proportion of NHS activity, accounting for less than 1% of the NHS budget.

But in some fields it is significant. For example, Ramsay Health Care, running independent hospitals across the country, delivers more orthopaedic (bones and joints) surgery to NHS patients than any single NHS organisation.

Private hospitals have considerable expertise and are keen to share this with the NHS.

Much more could be done to take advantage of this expertise and improve healthcare for all patients.

Several million people use private hospitals each year and around 10m people buy a daily newspaper.

Neither of these activities is particularly exclusive or elitist. People know what is best for them and they like to have a choice.

I think we should trust them.

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