NHS privatisation would be ‘political suicide’, says thinktank

The NHS will not be privatised because public support for it is so strong that any government seeking to change its funding model would be committing “political suicide”, an analysis has claimed.

The research by the influential King’s Fund thinktank dismisses fears – voiced by Labour and campaigners including Prof Stephen Hawking – that the health service will be turned into a US-style private system.

It reached its conclusions after analysing 34 years of British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey data, which show that the NHS has enjoyed consistently stronger backing from voters than education or welfare.

“The public remains extremely supportive of the principles and core purpose of the NHS with a consistency in its responses since 1983 that is remarkable,” said Richard Murray, the fund’s director of policy, in a blog published on Thursday.

“Those that fear a shift toward a more US-style system based on private spending should take some comfort from these results as they suggest this would be deeply unpopular with the public.”

He told the Guardian that NHS England’s plans for health service organisations in eight parts of the country to evolve into set-ups known as “accountable care systems” would not lead to private firms playing a bigger role in providing healthcare.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is facing two legal challenges – one involving Hawking – over the lack of public consultation about planned changes to parliamentary regulations to enable the new bodies to start operating from April.

“Accountable care systems have benign rather than sinister motives, but they have been badly handled,” Murray said. “They are about trying to join up the care provided by different providers and getting NHS organisations to work together better. It’s unfortunate that they have borrowed American terminology, and done that at a time when the NHS is in the middle of a winter crisis which has brought great concerns about NHS funding.

“But the BSA results over decades show absolutely consistently that for anyone in politics who was trying to privatise the funding of the NHS, it would be an act of political suicide.”



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