Thank you for contacting me about Integrated Care Boards and private sector providers.
I welcome the intention, through the Health and Care Bill, to develop more integrated care between the NHS, local government, social care providers and other partners to deliver better integration of health and care services on the ground. The reforms proposed in the Bill will continue to improve the quality and sustainability of NHS services and outcomes for patients. Service provision by the independent and voluntary sectors has been, and continues to be, an important and valuable feature of our healthcare system, which I fully support. Safeguards are already in place to ensure that the interests of the public and the NHS are always put first. The ICB chair would have the power to veto members of the board and there are robust requirements on ICBs to manage conflicts of interests.
That said, I do appreciate that there are concerns about private sector involvement in ICBs. It is important that people are assured that the work of ICBs will be driven by health outcomes, not by profits.
The Health and Care Bill does not allow private sector providers to influence, or to make, decisions on spending, but it is welcome that the Government has committed to putting that beyond doubt. They will bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill’s passage through Parliament to protect the independence of ICBs by preventing individuals with significant interests in private healthcare from sitting on them. My ministerial colleagues will be working to ensure that any amendment is appropriately worded and does not have any unintended consequences. I look forward to seeing their proposed amendment in due course and can assure you that I will scrutinise its contents closely.
More broadly, the measures set out in the Health and Care Bill deliver on the NHS’s own proposals for reform in its Long Term Plan. These proposals have been developed in consultation with key stakeholders in this sector, and I am encouraged by the preliminary positive feedback received. In particular, the comments from the Chief Executive of NHS England, who has said that this Bill “will support our health and care services to be more integrated and innovative so the NHS can thrive in the decades to come”, are reassuring.
Let me be abundantly clear: the Government will never privatise the NHS. It is irresponsible scaremongering to suggest that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are being used to support privatisation, or cuts to NHS funding. The NHS will always be free at the point of use, and I believe these reforms will continue to improve the quality of NHS services and outcomes for patients.
The use of private providers and the voluntary sector in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept, with the previous Government introducing the independent sector and competition into the NHS between 1997 and 2010. Competition in the NHS should act as a means to an end in improving services for patients, never as an end in itself.
I am pleased at the Government’s clear commitment to supporting the NHS and our wider healthcare system. The Government will provide the NHS with £33.9 billion in funding by 2023/24, which is the largest, longest funding settlement in the history of the NHS, and is confirmed in law by the NHS Funding Act. In addition, the NHS Long Term Plan commits £4.5 billion in primary and community care to help strengthen local healthcare networks.