The leader of the United Kingdom’s medical specialists has attacked British Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt’s recent defence of record health service debts.
Dr. Paul Miller, chair of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee, accused the government of wasting billions of pounds on private sector reforms and management consultants.
In April, Hewitt claimed the National Health Service (NHS) was in great shape. But at a recent conference in London, Miller blasted ministers for their “bad policies and shocking incompetence.”
The introduction of private treatment centres has led to health trusts – the arms’ length organizations that run Britain’s hospitals – being charged hundreds of billions of pounds for unnecessary work. Private funding to build hospitals is burdening trusts with long-term debt, while private management consultants are receiving rich payments despite failing to improve NHS performance.
He also criticized the government’s private finance initiative (PFI), P3 schemes under which trusts pay back loans from the private sector to build hospitals with interest over 20 to 30 years.
Miller highlighted $270 million wasted on three deals: the abandoned Paddington PFI scheme; the delayed Barts PFI scheme, which cost an extra $73 million, and the Norfolk and Norwich PFI, under which the NHS missed out on $170 million when private contractors refinanced the deal.
Miller called on the health secretary to transfer the running of the NHS to an independent organization free from political interference. His impassioned speech received a standing ovation, and was echoed by delegates. One surgeon said “government and departmental planning exists in a twilight zone divorced from reality.”
Tom Smith, a senior policy analyst at the BMA, claimed the government was hiding the true scale of NHS debts. “Patricia Hewitt says only 6 per cent of trusts are in debt. I don’t believe that.”