Who Profits from More Competition for the NHS?

By Tim Hardy

The coalition would like to assure us that opening up the NHS to more competition is not a move towards privatisation. Who could doubt their sincerity?

The Competition and Cooperation Panel (CCP) will be tasked with ensuring fairness. Having a Labour peer, Lord Carter of Coles as head no doubt helps mask the stench of corruption around the Conservative Party who have received donations and gifts from private healthcare sources totalling £8.3 million and the Liberal Democrats who have received close to £1 million.

Or does it?

Surely nobody could doubt that Carter’s role as an adviser to Warburg Pincus International Ltd, a private equity firm with significant investments in the healthcare industry, will in any way cloud his judgement?

Likewise there can be absolutely no conflict of interest between this and his role as co-founder and chairman of Westminster Health Care, a leading private nursing home company sold for £214 million in 1999 to a firm backed by Goldman Sachs.

Only a cynic would see anything untoward about his £799,000 a year role as Chair of American healthcare firm McKesson Information Solutions Ltd, which delivers IT to almost every NHS organisation.

And there can be no cause for suspicion about his role as the chair of Primary Group Ltd, a private equity company with a substantial holding in B-Plan Information Systems Ltd who also stand to profit from the creation of more internal markets in the NHS.

In a surprisingly good article in the Mail on Sunday detailing these connections, the importance of the CCP in holding back potential exploitation of the NHS by private healthcare companies is made explicit:

Later this month, the CCP is set to publish an investigation with big implications for the NHS’s future – a complaint brought by Virgin Healthcare over a contract for physiotherapy and orthopaedic services in North Yorkshire.

Virgin – known as Assura until it was bought last week by Sir Richard Branson – claims that it was unfairly discriminated against because the NHS trust that won the contract offered an ‘unrealistic’ lower price.

As Consultant Anaesthetist Katherine Teale warns, the private health insurance companies circling the NHS target those who do not need treatment and avoid those with chronic and severe problems who need the most help. That is the reality of private health. It profits from fear and fails to provide universal care.

Showing a total contempt for the democratic process, the government has not waited for the bill to become law and long ago started implementing these reforms, awarding contracts to private healthcare companies that – coincidentally – are financial backers of the Conservative party.

Nothing will hold the wolves back if the bill is passed.

In the Mail article, Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, is quoted as saying:

[ Lord Carter] cannot have any credibility when he is also heading a company with such huge interests in the very contracts his organisation is meant to police. GPs are being minutely scrutinised for possible conflicts of interest. But if we are going to have to have transparency it has to apply throughout the system.

Of course we no more expect transparency or honesty from the government than we should expect them to be “the greenest ever” or any of their other lies. Andrew Lansley himself has twice broken the law and refused to release the NHS risk register. His colleague Michael Gove has also been caught red-handed. Not only has he deliberately attempted to bypass Freedom of Information regulations by using his wife’s email account to conduct government business – he has been found deleting correspondence about government policy. No surprise, the first ripples of a campaign to repeal the Freedom of Information regulation have already begun.

As stavvers so beautifully expresses it:

They attack the things we hope we never need, the things we don’t like to think about, the things that are so hard to imagine that we fail to adequately fight. Those immediately impacted are too vulnerable to resist. Those able to resist do not want to think about what they should resist, to entertain the possibility that these services may one day be necessary.

We have let the coalition destroy too much already. We cannot delude themselves that we will never need the NHS no matter how much else we deny.

Let there be no doubt: the Health and Social Care bill is designed to sell off the NHS and reward those who have helped fund the parties pushing it through. Patient care will suffer.

David Cameron beats his chest and says he’s “prepared to take hit” on the NHS.

Let’s show him how hard that hit is going to be.