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Long waiting lists are pushing patients into the private sector and putting the NHS on a “slippery slope” towards an insurance system, Labour has warned.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told a fringe event at Labour conference that the diversion of patients into private healthcare was the most “fundamentally threatening privatisation”.
He said some people were waiting up to two years to be seen and that those who could not bear the pain or disruption were taking out payday loans and even remortgaging their homes to pay for treatment.
“Some of them fear that they will lose their lives, and they are going to the private sector,” he said.
“That is a two-tier system that is eroding the fundamental, universal system that we created – Bevan deliberately created it – an NHS for everyone, irrespective of wealth, whether you’re poor, or you’re rich.”
Ashworth said this was a “danger” because “Tory MPs are already saying this… if people are opting out of the NHS and into the private sector, then why not give them a voucher for tax relief to go to the private sector?
“All of a sudden you’re on a slippery slope to an insurance system where the rich and the middle class can pay for their healthcare and get subsidies from the state to go into the private sector, and it leaves a rump service – often a lesser quality service – for the rest.”
He added: “The poor will always end up getting the poor services.”
The latest statistics show that a total of 5.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of July 2021 – the highest number since records began in August 2007.
The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at 293,102 in July 2021, down from 304,803 in the previous month but more than three times the number for July 2020.
Earlier this month health secretary Sajid Javid announced that the NHS in England would get an extra £5.4bn over the next six months to tackle the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Boris Johnson has also announced a 1.25 percentage point hike to national insurance to fund the NHS and then social care, raising an estimated £12billion a year.
But Javid recently revealed that waiting lists could reach 13 million, and in a recent interview with Sky News admitted that the extra funding may not be enough.
“I think this is enough money,” he said, before adding: “The NHS is the biggest universal health service in the world, it’s always had challenges for as long as I can remember.”
Asked whether he could guarantee that the money would clear the backlog, he said: “No responsible health secretary can make that kind of guarantee.
“What I can be absolutely certain of is that this will massively reduce the waiting list from where it would otherwise have been.”