THE NHS should use private companies and the third sector in future if that is best for patients, the departing head of the region’s Foundation Trust has claimed.
Jules Preston is stepping down from his role as chairman of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust next month.
The former head of Sunderland Trade and Enterprise Council said he still strongly believes in the NHS.
But he said investment from businesses and charities could be a way forward for the beleaguered service, provided care remains free to patients.
Mr Preston said: “There is a political battle going on, as to whether there is privatisation of the NHS by the back door.
“My comment on that, and I hope it is not political, is that providing we can continue to deliver services to the patient, based on NHS principles and standards at the point of delivery, it is not important that everything should be delivered by what we would call a traditional NHS hospital.
“If the best provision is by the third sector or a private company, the only thing that is important is that we provide the best possible care for the patient, funded by the NHS.
“Monopolies don’t usually deliver the best in any industry.”
“No job can always be perfect,” Mr Preston added. “I do not believe there is a doctor in the NHS that sets out to do something wrong.
“We don’t hear about the 99% of great work which is done, only the mistakes.”
But Mr Preston’s comments angered campaigners from groups such as Keep Our NHS Free North East, which last month battled against the takeover of a Newcastle GP practice by a private firm.
Several doctors resigned when management of the Grainger Medical Group in Benwell was handed over to Care UK, which is owned by a private equity fund.
Paul Baker, one of the campaigners, said any form of privatisation signalled the beginning of the end for the NHS.
It’s the same old chestnut,” he said. “The trouble is that private companies are owned by shareholders that have invested their money in them.
“That investment may not be for pure greed but they do need a return. The chief motivator of any private company is profit.”
Fellow campaigner Martin Manesse, whose father was a GP, added: “It is absolutely the start of a slippery slope.
“The problem is that the money given to private companies by the Government ends up being split between health care and their own shareholders.”
Mr Preston is to take up a new chairmanship at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. He already lives in the county, having moved with his wife to Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, last year.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
IN his six-and-a-half years in charge, Mr Preston has helped Northumberland, Tyne and Wear to become one of the best-performing Foundation Trusts in the UK.
"It has probably been the most satisfying job I have ever had," he said. "To take an organisation through merger, then through Foundation Trust status, and currently going through transformation of services ... it has been quite a challenge and that is something I have enjoyed."
But this year, the trust – which provides mental health and disabilities care and treatment – suffered a damning report after abuse of patients was uncovered at the Roycroft Unit in Newcastle. "We have to learn from our mistakes," said Mr Preston. "The thing we have done is to be very open when we have made a mistake, such as at the Roycroft Unit."
He added: "Working with people is far greater than working against them. Better communication and working together have been the cornerstones of my office.
"But if I did anything right in office it was to appoint Dr Gillian Fairfield as chief executive, someone who is a doctor and understands clinicians. That has been my big achievement here.
"I will be sad to leave but I know I am leaving a really successful trust that has an exciting and ambitious future ahead of it."