February 10, 2011 : Signs of things to come: The privatisation of the NHS

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The government's Health and Social Care Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on 31st January by 321 votes to 235. One Liberal Democrat mustered the courage to abstain. None voted against it. The bill, however, has been heavily criticised by healthcare workers, unions and campaign groups, which argue it will lead to an increasingly unequal system as public healthcare is allowed to deteriorate and private providers come forward to take over the parts they can profit from (see, for example, Keep Our NHS Public's '10 Reasons to Kill the Bill').

The government's mantra has been that the healthcare reforms are not privatisation and people who are calling it that need to “grow up” (see here). On the morning of the debate, David Cameron promised the BBC, “there is no privatisation taking place,” sounding suspiciously like the former New Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, who prefaced his healthcare reforms by saying "this is not privatisation in any way, shape or form,” before introducing plans that have led to far more private involvement in the NHS.

Indeed, Milburn was a popular figure throughout the debate as the coalition name-checked him and other New Labour reformers to deflect criticism by saying they were just continuing the reforms the previous government had started. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, for example, avoided a question regarding the accountability of private companies hired by GPs to help them commission services, by repeating Milburn's dictum that, “If I can get a private-sector hospital to treat an NHS patient, then for me the person remains an NHS patient.” He went on to say his bill was following the “brainchild of Alan Milburn and Tony Blair,” while his junior minister Simon Burns concluded the debate, quoting some classic management speak from Gordon Brown in 2008: “the test at the end of the day is not private versus public, it is value for money, and it is not dogmatic to support one against the other.”

Given both parties have benefited from the largesse of the private healthcare industry over the last ten years, it should come as no surprise that they are reading from the same script (see Spinwatch's video tour of the private healthcare industry's lobbying). Indeed, Conservative ministers have followed Milburn's lead in more than just policy terms. After leaving office, Milburn secured jobs with American healthcare giant Covidien, Lloyds Pharmacy and Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm heavily involved in financing private healthcare firms moving into the NHS. Andrew Lansley, as revealed by the Telegraph, has 21,000 reasons to be friends with the private sector, given that's exactly the amount of pounds the wife of John Nash, former chairman of private healthcare provider Care UK, gave his personal office in November 2009, on top of the £200,000 Nash and his wife had previously given the Conservative party. The Daily Mirror reported that, in total, the Conservative party has received over £750,000 in donations from private healthcare companies.

If it's not privatisation, then there are going to be some very unhappy companies knocking on Lansley's door. Luckily for them, though, Cameron and Lansley, like Blair and Milburn before them, may nothave been telling the whole truth. Even before the bill was passed, Care UK had won a £53 million prison hospital contract, being chosen ahead of the current NHS providers (see here).

Other beneficiaries of the health reforms so far have been management consultants with years of experience advising the previous government to sign bloated, inefficient private finance initiative (PFI) contracts. Private Eye reported that Mckinsey has been paid £6.5 million and KPMG £1.2 million by the Department of Health for advice on the commissioning to be done by the GP consortia at the centre of the reforms. Since giving its advice, KPMG has won a contract with NHS London to help develop GP commissioning consortia pathfinders in the city ( see here).

The Health and Social Care Bill bill now enters the Committee stage, which will stop receiving evidence on 31st March, after which there will be a third and final reading in the House of Commons. More public services are expected to follow the same route.


See also:

Under the microscope: pathology gets the Serco treatment

November 9, 2011

Co-operating and competing to privatise the NHS

August 12, 2011

The vultures circle: private equity and the NHS

May 10, 2011

Wolves cry wolf: selling competition in the NHS

April 6, 2011

Corporate Watch is starting a new project that will look at the increased private involvement in public services and provide anti-privatisation campaigns with a 'toolkit' for fighting against these 'reforms'. If you are a public sector worker willing to be interviewed for the project, or if you are a campaigner or researcher who has relevant information or wishes to contribute material, please contact us at contact[at-]corporatewatch.org, tel: 02074260005.