The British Medical Association's (BMA) campaign against the commercialisation of the NHS has been branded "misguided and foolhardy" by right-of-centre think tank Civitas.
Launched last week, the BMA campaign claimed that private companies were paid for planned operations and procedures that did not go ahead, costing around £200m.
Civitas has accused the BMA of "shamelessly politicising healthcare on cherry-picked evidence."
In response to the BMA's report that the number of senior managers in the NHS have risen by 91% since 1995, for instance, Civitas says a large part of this increase is due to historically low and inadequate levels of management compared with other health systems, as well as the amount of paperwork required by the government and "numerous regulators to satisfy central requirements".
Civitas also claims that quality of care is typically higher in independent sector treatment centres than the NHS. It said: "There is mounting evidence to suggest ISTCs caused NHS providers to drive performance in a way that would not have happened without a competitive threat."
On the issue of GP-led health centres, the BMA said these have been "costly … enjoying on average three times the funding per patient of regular GP practices". However, Civitas said that this was a Department of Health initiative and "not a market response", and that GP-led health centres have addressed the fact that access to GPs is "disproportionately better in more affluent areas".
Civitas said: "The NHS is facing a choice. The best estimates are that with zero real growth – which looks likely – the NHS will face a shortfall of £20bn by 2013/14, rising to £38bn by 2016/17 vis-à-vis need. Productivity improvements are needed on a scale never seen in the NHS's 62-year history.
"The NHS can take the BMA's route and close its doors to the independent sector, or it can harness the sector's expertise by breaking down barriers to entry."
James Gubb, Director of the Health Unit at Civitas, said: "The BMA's stance goes to the heart of the debate in the NHS at present: whether the financial challenges facing the NHS meant taxpayers' money should be spent supporting NHS providers, or spent on the provider – NHS or non-NHS – that can offer the best deal on quality and cost.
"I suspect most of the public would side with the latter. Affinity lies with the values underlying the NHS: universal, comprehensive health care, free-at-the-point-of-use, rather than who provides the service."
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Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Yes. I expect there to be a place for using additional capacity from private sector organisations where they can supply it to supplement shortfalls in NHS resources in the short term. For example, contracting to use neighbouring diagnostic facilities where NHS clinicians are happy with the reporting arrangements between private and NHS parties. We have,
however, seen crazy contracts arranged by the Dept of Health that guarantees payment to the providers, regardless of the number of cases or treatments provided. Contracting would appear to be a continuing problem at the DH. Offering providers the opportunity to 'cherry pick' low cost treatments means that the NHS is left with the high cost and emergency treatments with nothing to cross subsidise their costs and keep them competitive" – Name and address withheld