NEW DELHI, India – The British government is moving to end its long-standing practice of allowing private firms to run hospitals, forcing the government to transfer responsibility for running the country’s most important public healthcare system to the private sector.
The move, first reported by The Associated Press, will be announced on Wednesday by Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth.
It will see all government-run hospitals and nursing homes shut down by the end of the year, along with many of the nation’s public health systems.
It will also see the privatised Royal Free Hospital close and will allow private firms such as Auberge de France to take control of the NHS’s social care system.
Private companies would take over hospitals and other healthcare services in some areas, including the National Health Service, the Department of Health, the National Hospital for Sick Children and the National Childbirth Trust.
The move is the latest in a string of measures to reduce the costs and risk of privatisation, with many in the government calling for a full-blown reform of Britain’s healthcare system.
Ashworth said in a statement that the move to privatise the NHS was “part of our long-term strategy to make sure that we have the best possible health service for the most people in the most convenient way.”
The government said the move was in line with the government’s aim to “maximise the value for money and minimise the cost to the taxpayer,” and to “help drive savings and efficiency through better management of public services.”
Ashworth will say publicly that “the government has committed to maintaining the NHS as it was originally intended, while making significant changes to it to deliver better outcomes for people, the economy and the environment.”
The move comes as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, with the country due to leave at the end the month.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to formally trigger Brexit talks with European leaders next month.
The government says the decision will give it a “fresh start” and “give people confidence in our NHS and our future.”
Britain’s hospitals will also be transferred to the newly-created Public Health England, which will also operate in the UK.
The Department of health and social care, which oversees the NHS, said it will also transfer to the new body a number of public service departments, including care of the elderly and mental health.
Health Secretary Jonathan Iweala said in his statement that it would be “unfair” for private companies to take “over the NHS in an unfair way.”
“It is unfair to those people who are working in hospitals, the NHS or the National Care Service who will have to continue to operate,” Iwealasaid.
“The government is committed to keeping this country’s public healthcare sector as it is, with public services and services in public hands.”
Ashbury said the government would work with private firms and will ensure that the private system of hospitals and social housing are run by “the best and the brightest.”
The new body will have powers to take measures to improve patient care and to ensure that private companies do not undermine the NHS.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, said in the statement that she had “always stood for treating the NHS like a public good, and I want to make that clear in this new arrangement.”
The prime minister said that the government “will continue to take on board the advice and advice of the Royal College of Nursing and the NHS Trust” to ensure the health and wellbeing of the public.
More stories from India:The Associated Press contributed to this report.