Unison’s Patricia McKeown said the ‘lid needed to be lifted’ on privatisation.
She commented: “The drive to privatise the health service is something that Unison has been bringing to the attention of, and making demands from the Northern Ireland Executive for the last 10 years.
“We have given evidence to first and deputy first ministers in the past, given evidence to assembly health committees, we have challenged successive health ministers of what they’re going to do to start lifting the lid on what is a process that is happening behind closed doors, its is completely opaque, there’s no openness, no transparency, most of all there is no debate.”
A meeting is taking place this evening among all the health unions and the health minister.
Mrs McKeown said: “The privatisation of the health service is one of the issues we will be discussing.
“We are not prepared to live in a world where ordinary people are accepting that they have to pay for health care.
“We’re hearing every day through the union, tales of hardship, of people who are going into debt and danger in order to have the money to have the first consultation, to get themselves into the National Health Service system – that’s not acceptable.
“There’s a whole issue here on procurement – to what extent are we procuring services from the private sector?
“Health care is not a market, health care is a human right and it’s not a business for making money on.”
Kingsbridge Healthcare Group yesterday announced its plans to expand patient services and facilities at its private hospitals in Belfast and Ballykelly, which KHG acquired in June.
In Belfast, a £6m expansion project will increase bed capacity by a third and to add a new ward, operating theatre and endoscopy suite. The upgrade will also enable the hospital to provide NI’s first private intensive care unit, which is due to open to patients shortly, and private cardiac surgery services.
In Ballykelly, a £3m redevelopment project is underway to modernise wards and facilities. There are also plans to launch a private GP service operating five days a week.
Jeremy Macartney from KHG said: “Santander UK’s support enables us to build on our existing services while delivering a wide range of specialisms that will significantly enhance choice for patients. We are committed to working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive to address waiting lists and this funding from Santander UK enables us to provide much needed bed and theatre capacity to help tackle this.”
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