A photo of NHS campaigners in Oxford staging a tug of war between Richard Branson and the public.

Campaigners across the country have been coordinating actions in opposition to private involvement in the NHS today. Keep Our NHS Public, We Own It and Unite Community jointly organised protests in over 20 towns and cities in response to changes to how the NHS is managed.

With the passing of the Health and Care Act in June, the health service in England will be reorganised into 42 new NHS bodies called Integrated Care Systems (ICS), overseen by an Integrated Care Board (ICB). These changes are due to formally come into operation from July 1. Campaigners claim that private companies may be given a role in these boards and in other bodies that will be responsible for overseeing the NHS.

As a result of an ongoing campaign coordinated by anti-privatisation group We Own It, eight chairs of ICS’ across the country have pledged to prohibit private companies on local NHS boards. The remainder have yet to make any such public commitment.

According to We Own It, that’s why people across England took action in their local community today. The organisation’s lead campaigner Johnbosco Nwogbo said, “NHS leaders must commit not to allow private companies to continue to have a role in our local NHS bodies. We hope these actions happening up and down the country will have an effect in showing them the strength of feeling among the public on this issue.” He has added, “Opening the boardroom doors to private companies who could stand to benefit financially from decisions made by the board about the healthcare available to people […] looks bad and smells bad.”

Protests were held in major cities across England including Birmingham, Leeds and Leicester. In Oxford, campaigners staged a tug of war between patients and Virgin boss Richard Branson. Meanwhile, in South Tyneside, street surveys were held to ascertain people’s views on health privatisation.

In addition to calling for ICS chairs to rule out private companies being given seats on NHS boards, campaigners are demanding they institute a ban on private companies deciding who runs NHS services and an end to outsourcing and privatisation in the NHS.

Dr Pam Wortley, a former GP who joined one of the actions in the north east of England said,

There are already a large number of companies providing NHS services such as Vocare, who run out-of-hours GP services at walk-in centres, and Operone who oversee GP practices.

You then have Serco, who the Government commissioned to run Test and Trace as part of its £37bn investment, and £4bn paid to private companies for PPE, a large amount of which went unused as it was sub-standard.

At the end of the day, private companies are there to make profit and this restructuring is part of a backdoor method to privatise the NHS.

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