In the 70 years that the NHS has thankfully existed, the private sector has always played a role in delivering publicly funded health care.
Services provided on a contractual basis include GP practices, dentistry, drugs and medicine manufacturing, the supply of equipment and the myriad back office functions needed to keep an organisation with 1.3m employees working effectively.
Despite a lot the rhetoric we hear these days from some politicians, I believe that the private sector still has a major role to play in providing many of these services and functions.
I don’t think any reader of this publication will disagree that as much as possible of the £126bn allocated to the NHS each year should be spent directly on the treatment of patients.
This ambition requires, however, tight control over the resources spent on non clinical aspects of the NHS. For that to happen though we need, amongst other things, to massively increase productivity in the NHS.
This doesn’t mean people working harder or cutting services, it means working smarter through innovation, both in relation to new technologies and improvements in working practices.
This imperative undoubtedly requires a continued, close relationship with the private sector, which is often at the cutting edge of providing such innovation.
I think we would all agree we need more dedicated health professionals focused on curing diseases and getting patients healthy again, but we need too proper support for their work. They should not be concerned about HR functions or how the IT system works.
Remaining open-minded therefore about how best to access service expertise is very important. What matters is whether the IT service offered to the various parts of the NHS is up to the mark, not who owns it.
What matters is having an IT service which is well-resourced and which offers a highly trained and appropriately remunerated workforce.
It must also be recognised that we are moving into the era of big data, which has the potential to transform health care and make care more personal. It offers the possibility of giving individuals more control over healthcare options.
With the right regulation and control the private sector could be well placed to help deliver the tools and processes which will make tailored, individual care a reality.
For many years we have lived with a health service that is seen by many as remote and detached, one which has relied on the acute sector for too many services.
Some of the revolutionary technologies now available to us, combined with innovative thinking about how best to deliver services to patients, make it entirely likely that we can provide more care in a primary care setting, closer to where patients live.
I will always argue that the founding principle of the NHS, that care must be free at the point of delivery, must remain. Denying the private sector a role, however, flies in the face of history and common sense and should be resisted if we are to have a health service fit for the 21st century.
Angela Smith is MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge