A third of NHS contracts are going to private providers. Photo: Getty
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Since the government's reforms, a third of NHS contracts have gone to the private sector

"Fragmenting and privatising".

In terrible news for David Cameron, and a gift to Labour, a third of NHS contracts awarded since the government's health reforms have gone to the private sector.

The British Medical Journal analysed nearly 3,500 contracts awarded between April 2013 and August 2014, since the government's Health and Social Care Act kicked in last year, and found that 33 per cent of contracts had been handed to private sector providers.

These contracts are awarded by the controversial Clinical Commissioning Groups established by the new health reforms, led by GPs, which have the power to influence commissioning decisions for patients and organise the delivery of services.

Dr Mark Porter of the BMJ called the findings a demonstration of "creeping privatisation in the NHS since the Health and Social Care Act was introduced", and criticised the government, which he claims "flatly denied" that the reforms would amount to increasing privatisation.

This is a bad look for the Conservatives, for whom the NHS is already a toxic issue because of their unpopular restructuring. It also gives Labour the opportunity to continue its attack line that the Tories cannot be trusted on the NHS. The shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has jumped on this story and done just that:

These figures blow apart Jeremy Hunt’s claim that ‘NHS privatisation isn’t happening’. It is happening and it is happening on his watch.

This is because contracts are being forced out onto the open market by David Cameron’s Health Act. Labour believes in protecting the public NHS and will repeal the rules that are fragmenting and privatising it.

The NHS of the future demands more integration. The problem with this Government’s policy is that it’s taking it in the opposite direction, towards more fragmentation.

These figures show what is at stake at the coming election. David Cameron’s Government is stealthily hiving off NHS services without the permission of the public.

This is a strong point for Labour, because it has a tangible answer to Cameron's tampering with the NHS: repealing the Health and Social Care Act if it wins the election. And such a policy will chime with an electorate that faces further, more painful, cuts to its public services in the near future.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.