Andy BurnhamIn a recent announcement, Labour Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has called on Liberal Democrat MPs to help fight Conservative Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley’s bill that could see NHS hospitals earning 49% of their income from the treatment of private patients. Seen as the first steps in a process to increase privatisation of the National Health Service, it is a proposed change that could move the UK closer to the American system of health care.

In an opposition debate, Andy Burnham called upon the bill’s potential to produce longer waiting lists for non-private patients and the creation of a two-tiered National Health Service. The plans that make up the bill could also see hospitals being pitted against each other based on financial factors as opposed to patient care delivery, putting the emphasis away from the core reasoning for the development of the NHS when it was first established.

With stories of patients sewing up their own wounds and ignoring ailments and bigger medical issues because of costs in the USA’s privatised system of health care, the potential negatives of increasing privatisation in the UK become apparent. The reality is that a patient that has paid their taxes and national insurance for many years could end up getting a second tier service compared to a private patient in NHS hospitals if the plans for privatisation ever really come to bear.

While the Conservatives will counter this with talk of the need to maximise funding for the NHS and Labour’s recent history of cuts to NHS budgets, many argue that these are not reasons enough to take on the implications of privatisation in the NHS. These include the possibility of providers focusing too heavily on income, costs increasing, health statistics tracking downwards, increased incidence of fraud, and limitations on care coverage, so the question is whether or not competition will result in improvements or more reasons to fail.

It’s also true that with an increasingly aging population and the growth of lifestyle choice illnesses the modern day health care service is facing a very different situation than it has ever previously in its history, but that just means it needs a long term plan, not necessarily that it needs privatisation. That might be easier said than done, but that’s got to be the challenge.

With Andrew Lansley scrambling around for peer support in the House of Lords before Christmas and, according to the Labour website, leaked emails from Lib Dem activists revealing huge grassroots concern about the issue, the bill is looking as though it might be on the ropes, but only time will tell on an issue that would fundamentally change the NHS.