Cash-strapped NHS boards are spending millions of pounds on private security firms as part of controversial PFI contracts, it has emerged.
Newly-released figures show that more than £16.5 million has been spent in the past five years, with much of the money allocated under private finance agreements. While the figure has grown in each of the past five years and stood at nearly £4m in 2017-18, only five NHS boards have made payments. The biggest spender was NHS Lothian, which has paid out nearly £7m since 2013-14.
The figures were obtained by the Scottish Conservatives using freedom of information legislation. The party said the spending revealed the “hypocrisy” of the SNP government on the issue of privatisation in the health service.
But the Scottish Government said the majority of hospital security continued to be provided by NHS staff on NHS rates of pay.
According to the figures, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Highland, Lanarkshire, Lothian and Tayside have all spent money on private security. NHS Lothian’s bill includes money paid to PFI partner Consort, as well as security firms G4S and Profile.
NHS Lanarkshire recorded the second highest spend, at £5.19m since 2013-14, due to PFI arrangements at Hairmyres and Wishaw hospitals.
In Greater Glasgow and Clyde, health bosses attributed an increasing spend on the fact many buildings had closed down for the transfer to the new Queen Elizabeth campus, meaning disused sites required round-the-clock protection. And they said that other out-of-hours GP services needed “an ongoing security presence”.
But other large health boards resisted using private firms, with bosses in Aberdeen stating: “All security staff used by NHS Grampian are employed by NHS Grampian.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “The SNP never stops talking about how it despises the use of private companies when it comes to our NHS. Yet here we see, under its watch, spiralling costs when it comes to private security firms.
“From the party that warned a No vote in 2014 would lead to the collapse of the NHS in Scotland because of privatisation, this is quite the hypocrisy.
“It’s another example of the SNP saying one thing to please its supporters, but doing quite another in government.”
He went on to say the private firms were providing a valuable service by keeping patients and staff safe.
But he added: “It’s clear from this research that some major health boards don’t need to use private firms, which shows this is a choice rather than a necessity.”
Deals signed under PFI are expected to cost the UK taxpayer hundreds of billions of pounds over the next 20 years.
In Scotland, the most controversial projects include the bill for the privately built Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which is expected to be over £1.5 billion by the end of the PFI contract in the 2030s.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Any violence or aggression against NHS Scotland staff is unacceptable and we have policies in place to provide and continuously improve a safe working environment.
“We encourage all health boards to commit to supporting appropriate action against anyone who assaults a staff member, including criminal proceedings where appropriate.
“The majority of NHS services are provided by permanent NHS staff working on NHS contracts at NHS rates of pay.”