The Assembly has voted to limit the extent of the private sector in providing healthcare in Northern Ireland.
MLAs last night called on Health Minister Edwin Poots to introduce laws that would protect healthcare services here from “privatisation by stealth”.
The SDLP said its motion — which was narrowly passed with Sinn Fein and Alliance support — was a victory for those who want to see the healthcare system remain under public control and in public ownership.
It also urged the minister to ensure that the patient and not profit is put at the centre of care provision.
SDLP health spokesperson Conall McDevitt, who tabled the motion, said that as a result of the vote, Mr Poots must now bring forward legislation to indicate where and how the private sector should be involved in the delivery of health and social care services.
The move follows massive controversy after health trusts proposed the closure of virtually all statutory residential care homes across Northern Ireland. Mr Poots had faced unprecedented public anger over the proposals.
Transforming Your Care (TYC), a plan to reform Northern Ireland’s health service, had called for health trusts to deliver more care in the community and recommended the closure of half of statutory residential homes — but the trusts went much further.
Later the beleaguered minister put the plans on hold and said decisions would be made centrally. The SDLP said it did not want TYC to become a vehicle for privatisation of the health service.
“We brought the motion to the Assembly today to allow MLAs the opportunity to reassert their commitment to the basic values of the NHS and social care system,” said Mr McDevitt.
“We believe a health and social care system in public ownership and funded from the public purse properly focused on public health and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our society is the best model to meet all our needs. The challenge is to modernise and reform our existing system not to privatise it.”
Mr Poots told the Assembly his aim was to provide the level of care that people expect with less money.
“We have to invest it better. We have to deliver greater results,” he said.
“Any minister who would veer away from that, retract and get frightened when the word ‘privatisation’ is mentioned by someone in opposition, would, in fact, fail the people of Northern Ireland because they would ensure that people got a lesser standard of care and would not receive the support that they should to enable them to stay in their own home.
“We cannot move away from systems that can provide the best care just because it happens to be delivered by the private sector.”