Image: We Own It campaign officer Ellen Lees celebrating the win.
The government announced last week that they have abandoned their plans to sell of NHS Professionals at the 11th hour. This last-minute victory shows that when campaigners, unions, and politicians work together, we can force the government U-turn, and protect vital public services from privatisation.
NHS Professionals is a publicly owned staff bank which supplies temporary staff to NHS Trusts and hospitals. It saves the NHS £70m per year by charging low commission on staff wages, and investing its profits back into the NHS. It was created to save the NHS from forking out high commission to private staffing agencies. It serves around a quarter of NHS Trusts, and is looking to expand its service to reach more hospitals, and save more money. The government decided to privatise NHS Professionals to inject private capital, and we think, to palm off responsibility for yet another aspect of the national health service.
We Own It ran the campaign to stop the sale, working closely with campaigners from Keep Our NHS Public, Health Campaigns Together, and OurNHS openDemocracy, as well as the health team at Unison, backbenchers and shadow health ministers at Labour, and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas.
The government had planned to sell off a 75% stake in the company, but it will now be kept in public hands. The contract with the new owner was due to begin on 1st September, but was delayed and then abandoned entirely. The government announced their change of heart at 8am on the 7th of September, with as little fanfare as possible.
Our supporters were persistent - writing emails, signing petitions and putting pressure on stakeholders from all angles. We’ve proven what we already knew to be true - that people power really does work, and that we can influence the big decisions if our efforts are focused and strategic.
100 MPs signed our Early Day Motion against the sale, encouraged by emails from our supporters - their constituents. Thousands of people signed our petition to the Department of Health. We called on the National Audit Office to investigate the sale, along with Justin Madders, MPs, doctors and NHS campaigners. Something must have worked! Between us we pressured Jeremy Hunt and Philip Dunne into reversing the sale. Last Thursday morning, Philip Dunne said in a statement that NHS Professionals would remain ‘wholly in public ownership’.
This is a huge victory for the NHS and everyone in this country. The public doesn't want to see senseless privatisations and they have stood up to say no to this one. The government's decision to back away from this sale is absolutely the right thing to do and we hope this will make them look again at other plans for NHS privatisation that are still ongoing.
The government has realised that NHS Professionals is a highly valuable public asset that doesn't belong in the private sector. We're glad they've listened to us - to campaigners, doctors and patients. Now we're gearing up to push back privatisation elsewhere in the NHS.