Since the government's reforms, a third of NHS contracts have gone to the private sector

"Fragmenting and privatising".

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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 the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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