Fears that the founding values of the NHS are under “the worst ever attack” were raised during a public meeting into plans to privatise pharmacy services at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
Cat Smith, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood issued the warning during Wednesday evening’s No Health Sell Off meeting at Lancaster Town Hall.
Earlier that day campaigners handed in a petition of more than 9,000 signatures opposing the pharmacy sell-off to John Hutton, acting chair of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
At the meeting, Ms Smith was joined in raising concerns over the pharmacy proposals by fellow speakers, Eugene Doherty, president of the Lancaster and Morecambe Trades Council and Dr David Wrigley of the Ash Trees Surgery in Carnforth.
More than 80 people in the audience were urged to write to their local Conservative MPs Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) and David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) to oppose the privatisation of the pharmacy services. Both were invited to the meeting but did not attend.
Ms Smith said: “Learning that the trust was taking expressions of interest from private companies to run pharmacy services was a wake-up call for us here across Morecambe Bay.
“Since the introduction of this government’s Health and Social Care Act, the number of NHS contracts awarded to non-NHS providers has more than trebled. This leaves the future of our NHS in the hands of companies whose main objective is making profit for shareholders, rather than the provision of quality healthcare which is free at the point of use.”
Ms Smith said the NHS was “in the grips of a silent sell off”.
She added: “Its founding values are under the worst ever attack. Sixty five years ago our parents, grandparents and great grandparents stood together to make sure that no person would ever be denied good healthcare, on the grounds of wealth.
“Now, the Labour movement’s greatest social achievement is facing extinction.”
Ms Smith told how the hospital trust’s advert for the contract had stated that a “key business driver” for the sale was VAT savings due to a loophole which means that while the NHS has to pay 20% VAT on drug dispensing, private companies do not.
A campaign day held in Lancaster city centre at the end of last month revealed huge public opposition to the £25m pharmacy services sell-off, which also affects Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal and Furness General Hospital in Barrow. More than 800 people signed the petition on that day alone.