As the political party conference season comes to a close, it’s become apparent that discussions surrounding the future of the NHS are likely to be a focal point in the run up to May 2015, with each party trying to convince the electorate that the NHS is safest in their hands. But whilst the public debates between politicians distract us, has privatisation of the NHS already begun?
Margaret Thatcher will always be remembered for her strong views on denationalisation – her views being that privatisation would result in more jobs for the British public, more profits for the private sector, which ultimately would result in a stronger economy. Despite being a staunch advocate for denationalisation, Thatcher maintained a softer line on the NHS assuring the electorate that “the NHS is safe with us”. Despite Thatcher’s promise, the threat of privatisation has always loomed over the healthcare system, from the introduction of competition within the NHS to the widespread use of managers and administrators who aim to run hospitals like they would a private corporation. However, the biggest threat to the NHS has come under the watch of the current Conservative-led coalition government who, through their unmandated NHS Act 2013, have opened it up to the private sector. Between April and December last year, private companies were the beneficiaries of nearly 70% of health service contracts, and this year a further £5.8 billion worth of contracts have been advertised. The irony is that private companies are competing for these contracts with the NHS, which stands little chance against corporations that can afford to massively undercut the NHS bid.
Alongside awarding clinical contracts to private companies, hospital operations are being increasingly outsourced to the private sector. Private firms such as Sodexo and Medirest are now household names within the NHS, whilst private consultancy companies such as Accenture have been awarded contracts for managing hospital theatre lists. Of course, aside from service contracts, let us not forget that in 2012, Hinchingbrook hospital became the first privately-run NHS Trust, with the contract being awarded to Circle Healthcare to transform it from its failing fortunes. However, things have only gotten worse with private management and the 10 year long contract could potentially be terminated this year as the hospital continues to spiral into debt.
The Chancellor of the Thatcher era, Nigel Lawson, once famously asserted that the NHS is ‘the closest thing the English have to a religion’. His statement encapsulates the sentimental value British citizens hold for the NHS. For British Muslims in particular, the concept of a health service that is completely free at the point of delivery and treats all its patients equally regardless of socio-economic status is indeed a godly concept, and thus we as Muslims must be at the forefront in the fight to preserve its values. In the Quran, Allah tells us that He “enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good and the giving to the kindred” . Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as Muslims to fight for the preservation of equality and justice in all facets of public life, including our health service.
However, given the ethnic backgrounds of many immigrant Muslims in Britain, who may well have experienced the mercenary nature of private healthcare systems in the lands of their forefathers, there is an unfortunate apathy present at the mention of a privatised NHS. Aside from our moral responsibilities as Muslims, we must also acknowledge that we are amongst the highest users of the NHS. A privatised healthcare system that treats an individual on the basis of their socio-economic standing would only worsen the healthcare inequalities in deprived areas in the UK, many of which are highly populated by Muslims. For Muslims to completely ignore the NHS debate illustrates not only their inexcusable apathy, but also their naivety.
We only have to look at other models of privatisation in the UK to realise what might be in store for us if the health service is privatised. Since the privatisation of British Rail, the average price of a ticket has risen by 22%, whilst some tickets have increased almost exponentially by 245%. It seems the only beneficiaries of denationalisation have been the private companies and their shareholders, at the expense of the public who have been rendered defenceless by companies who lack accountability. The thought of this culture infecting the NHS is rather chilling.
The wheels of privatisation have been set in motion and stopping this will be a challenge. We must take it upon ourselves to join the NHS debate, and fight to protect it. As individuals, we must hold our MPs to account and probe them on the issue of the NHS with similar levels of passion as we might when questioning them on issues of foreign policy. The numerous bodies of Muslim doctors that exist within in the UK must also make the fight to save the NHS their top priority, through issuing statements and representing the concerns of Muslim patients to policy makers. We cannot afford to remain idle on this issue; after all, our faith dictates that we simply cannot let a system of justice and equality dissolve into the ether.
 Quran 16:90