May 23, 2018
The Labour leader had the PM on the back foot over outsourcing, but May found a decent comeback
PMQs verdict: Jeremy Corbyn fails to press home advantages on NHS
Key points
Jeremy Corbyn said that a year since the Grenfell Tower fire, justice had not been done. He said that in 2010, £4bn of NHS services were outsourced to private services. How much was it today?
May said spending on the private sector nearly doubled in the last four years of the Labour government.
Corbyn said May did not answer the question. It was now almost £9bn. And Surrey NHS had just paid Virgin Healthcare £1.5m because its bid was not chosen. He said a report on outsourcing said NHS England’s handling of this puts patients at risk of harm.
May said the National Audit Office report said no one was put at harm, and it said the savings helped to fund more operations. She said last year the spending on outsourcing in England did not go up. But it went up in Wales.
Corbyn said outsourcing to Capita had put patients at risk of harm. Outsourcing of GP services had led to records being mislaid. Wasn’t the government tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before care?
May said Labour had made claims about privatisation at every election. But after every election the Conservative government had protected the NHS.
Corbyn replied that that was a bit rich from the party that voted against the NHS. He said that, according to the Royal College of GPs, the long list of failures by Capita had been incredibly frustrating for doctors. They were leaving the profession in despair. One in 10 had left in the last five years. How many more GPs were there than in 2015?
May responded that there were more than 14,000 more doctors than there were in 2010. Corbyn talked about the private sector. Why not ask Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, who said Labour would still buy from the private sector?
Corbyn said Ashworth would put patients’ interests first. GPs were the bedrock of the service and we needed more of them. He quoted from someone who wrote to him about the care provided to her mother in a nursing home. What was the government doing about the substandard care provided by the private sector?
May said she wanted people to get good care. That was why Ashworth backed the use of the private sector in some circumstances.
Corbyn said Ashworth was dedicated to the NHS, not to handing it over to private contractors. This year was the 70th anniversary of the NHS. It had the worst waiting lists on record, the worst cancer referrals and falling numbers of GPs. Yet the government was opening up the door to more profiteering.
May said she paid tribute to the NHS. The government wanted a bright future for it. That was why she would come forward with a long-term plan. More people were being treated. There were people alive today who would not have been alive in the past. And yet you could only do this with a good economy. This week we learned Labour wanted to overthrow capitalism. That would mean more people in debt, fewer people in jobs and lasting damage to the NHS.

Snap verdict
Asking about the NHS at PMQs is a home game for a Labour leader (it’s a “Labour issue” as much today as ever) and Corbyn notched up a creditable performance, but not quite the decisive win he had last week, or the week before.
His questions had May on the back foot, particularly at the start when he was pressing her on the detail of outsourcing. But towards the end his questions started to lose focus, and it felt very much as if he was attacking the record of the last eight years, rather than anything the government had done on health since May became prime minister.
And, with the BBC reporting this week that May was poised to rip up parts of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, it was hard to see why Corbyn failed to challenge her to defend it, or to signal at PMQs (by refusing to defend it) that a U-turn was on the cards.
May is uncomfortable on this territory, but she had a half-decent comeback on outsourcing (it is not increasing in England, but it is in Wales), and she was beginning to open up quite effectively a divide between Corbyn (who instinctively dislikes any mention of profit in relation to NHS) and more centrist figures in his party, such as Jon Ashworth, who are more comfortable acknowledging some role for the private sector in health. May received very loud cheers from Tory MPs at the end as she concluded with an (over-long) peroration. It sounded more like consolation applause rather than a recognition that she had won, but overall it wasn’t a great outing by either of them.

Memorable lines
Jeremy Corbyn on NHS outsourcing:
Isn’t this the inevitable consequence of this government tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before public service?

Theresa May’s response:
We have protected the NHS, we have improved the NHS services, we have put more funding into the NHS and we have made sure we remain true to the founding principle of the NHS that it is free at the point of delivery.
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