More than a hundred people packed a North Finchley community hall last night to hear a heated debate on the future of the NHS in Barnet and across the country.
At the Greek Cypriot Centre in Britannia Road, members of the National Health Action Party, campaign group 38 Degrees and a Labour London Assembly member clashed with the head of Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, one of the new GP-led bodies that will be paying for and running many NHS services.
David Lawrence and Anne Summers of the NHAP argued it was a myth the NHS was unaffordable and the move towards marketisation and privatisation was the only way to save it, criticising bodies like the CCG which they saw as bodies to bring in cuts.
Commissioning group chief operating officer John Morton defended the CCG against claims it was working to privatise services and make money, but said reform was necessary as the current cost of the NHS was "unsustainable."
He said: “Our priority is providing quality outcomes for patients, we are not financially driven. We work to integrate care and make our services effective so patients get the right care at the right place at the right time, avoiding duplication and waste.”
He added the CCG spent only 1.5 per cent of its budget on private services and there were “no plans to change that,” and services would only go out to private tender if the public sector organisations could not provide the necessary quality.
Ms Summers said she was impressed by Mr Morton but added she was “aware this was provisional and no one knew what kinds of contracts would be signed.”
She said: “The NHS is not about contracts, it is about looking after people for as long as it takes.”
Mr Lawrence added: “The last 20 years of integration, combining health and social care services in an area, has been a disaster. This is a disaster Mr Morton and the CCG is not responsible for, but cannot do anything about.”
Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon Dr Onkar Sahota also criticised privatisation, arguing CCGs should be run by elected representatives rather than GPs who could suffer from a conflict of interest.
He said: "The role of the CCGs is to balance the books. If they don't they will be sanctioned and private services will be brought in. If you start looking at patients as commodities you will lose them."
38 Degrees campaigner Mrs Peanberg King spoke about her personal experiences of privatisation which had cost the life of her baby Axel, who died after private out-of-hours GP service Harmoni, whose staff she said were overworked and undersupported, failed to recognise how seriously ill her baby was.
She said: “My baby was a healthy two-month-old. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.”
Although a member of the audience criticised people from outside Barnet discussing Barnet NHS, Mrs Peanberg King, of Camden, said people should not just concentrate on the issues that affected their own back yard.
She said: “I don’t live in Barnet, but this is a nationwide problem, you shouldn’t need a baby to die in Barnet before you do anything about it.”
She added Barndoc, the body in charge of out-of-hours GP care in Barnet was going the way of Harmoni, and good doctors were reluctant to work there.
Speaking after the meeting, chairman Nick Goldberg of Save Barnet NHS said the debate had been passionate and could have gone on twice as long.
He stressed the dangers of privatisation, adding that although Mr Morton meant well, the CCG’s role was to impose cuts which would have a “detrimental" effect, urging people in Barnet to join the fight against privatisation.