Last Updated: March, 2019

Privatisation of public services takes place when the government either outsources those services to the private sector or transfers ownership of those services to the private sector. Both of these are happening within the NHS.

World Health Organisation Definition

A process in which non-governmental actors become increasingly involved in the financing and/or provision of health care.

Mechanisms of NHS privatisation

One of the critical factors driving privatisation is the saturation of the US health care market (see  Medicare  and  Accountable Care Organisations ), forcing US corporations to expand globally (see  UnitedHealth ).

The malign effects of privatisation on those who provide health care are insidious and multi-faceted, as corruption in the US health system shows. In the US the professional covenant with the patient is reduced to explicit contracts. The commodity relationship that private health provision creates between doctor and patient means that doctors may deny treatment when someone can't pay, or they may recommend treatment that may be unnecessary if their patient can pay. Both of these market principles are growing like a cancer within our health service (see  McKinsey  and  Specsavers ).

A 2013 YouGov Poll showed that 84 percent of the public would prefer to see the NHS run as a not-for-profit public service, with 80 percent ready to pay higher taxes to ensure that if need be. Just 7 percent wanted privatisation. There has never been a mandate to privatise any part of the NHS.

Professor Arnold Relman former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said:

The continued privatisation of health care and the continued prevalence and intrusion of market forces in the practice of medicine will not only bankrupt the health care system, but also will inevitably undermine the ethical foundations of medical practice and dissolve the moral precepts that have historically defined the medical profession.

Partial list of other public services that have been privatised in the UK:


Institution Date of Privatisations
Council Housing 1980 to present
British Sugar 1981
British Aerospace 1981, 1985
Associated British Ports 1983, 1984
Sealink 1984
British Telecom 1984, 1991, 1993
Trustees Savings Bank 1985
British Shipbuilders 1985 to 1986
British Gas 1986
Rolls-Royce 1987
British Airways 1987
Unipart 1987
British Steel 1988
Municipal Bus Companies 1988 to present
Water Companies 1989


Institution Date of Privatisations
National Grid 1990
East Midland Electricity 1990
London Electricity 1990
Yorkshire Electricity 1990
Girobank 1990
Liverpool Airport 1990 to 2001
Scottish Hydro-Electric 1991
Birmingham Airport 1993
East Midlands Airport 1993
London Busses 1994
British Coal 1994
British Rail 1994 to 1997
Bournemouth Airport 1995
Cardiff Airport 1995
Bristol Airport 1997, 2001
Luton Airport 1997, 2001
Student Loan Portfolios 1998, 1999, 2013


Institution Date of Privatisations
British Nuclear Fuels 2000 to 2009
British Air Traffic Services 2001 (50% privatised)
BBC Broadcast 2002
BBC Costumes and Wigs 2008


Institution Date of Privatisations
 Schools  2010 to present
BBC Audiobooks 2010 (85% privatised)
Northern Rock 2012
Fire Service College 2013
Royal Mail 2013, 2015
Lloyds Banking Group 2013, 2014, 2015
Royal Bank of Scotland Group 2015
East Coast Trains 2015
Eurostar International Ltd 2015 (50% privatised)
Food and Environment Research Agency2015 (75% privatised)
Government Pipelines and Storage System2015