Owen Smith’s drive to the left and search for popularity has brought him to one of Labour’s oldest scare tactics – claiming the Tories have a secret plan to privatise the NHS.
Labour have claimed this every time the Conservatives are in government, and every time we fight a General election. During the long periods of Conservative government since the NHS was established the party has resolutely stuck to the principle of free at the point of need, and has maintained a largely public sector NHS workforce.
Labour in office has introduced prescription charges and charges for dentistry and glasses, which Conservatives have kept. Labour introduced wide ranging PFI contracts. involving the private sector much more in new projects and in carrying out clinical functions for the NHS. Conservatives have sought to reduce PFI use and to get better value for money from some of the contracts Labour signed.
Both parties in office have relied extensively on private sector companies for a wide range of goods and services for the NHS. Both have bought all the drugs the service needs from private sector concerns. Both have used some private sector builders, cleaners, caterers and other support services. Both parties have allowed GPs and dentists to be private sector businesses contracting with the NHS for much of their workload. Both have occasionally bought clinical capacity from private providers.
So why doesn’t the media ask Mr Smith a few more pertinent questions. Does he intend to nationalise drug companies? Does he intend to take all cleaning, catering, building and other activities in house? Will he discontinue all contracting out, and stop all new PFI contracts? How much does he think such changes would cost? Why were previous Labour governments so wrong to use the private sector in this way?