Health union Amicus has hit out at a statement made by Patricia Hewitt yesterday that there would be limits to the role of the private sector in public health service commissioning.
Amicus has said that without a fixed criteria, the health secretary's assurances are worthless and that her words are in direct opposition to what is actually happening on the ground.
Last week, Hillingdon Primary Care Trust (PCT) announced they were considering outsourcing their entire commissioning functioning to the private sector, essentially handing over to private companies the ability to decide the range of health services that will be made available to users and exactly who should provide them. South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has also employed management consultants, Price Waterhouse Coopers, at a cost of £2m to decide if its nine PCTs should contract their commissioning functions to the private sector.
Amicus' head of health, Kevin Coyne, said: "The health minister's assurances that the private sector's role in the provision of core public health services will be limited are absolutely worthless unless a strictly observed and agreed criteria are set.
"The unchecked involvement of private companies in core NHS services is resulting in the transfer of publicly owned assets, yet experience shows that private companies do not provide value for money or deliver the stated aims of the government – to develop high-quality services and individualised care.
"We also believe that the fragmentation of services resulting from 'contracting out' is causing a dangerous fragmentation of healthcare services."
Amicus says that the complicated language of public sector reform is thinly disguising the privatisation of public services.
The union says that there is no evidence that the reforms are improving services or providing an efficient use of public money. It also says that as well as costing many millions of pounds, the involvement of the private sector in public services is compromising public accountability.