Sunday, 27 October 2019

Who will fight for the NHS?

A few years ago I received by post a ‘poo kit’ as part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme. The instructions asked me to take two samples on three separate occasions and send off in the enclosed sealed envelope. I noticed that the address of the test laboratory on the label was in Texas. My faeces was off to the USA!

Private companies have a growing presence in the NHS. This was initially through providing support services such as IT, catering, portering, laundry and cleaning. Today it has expanded to cover GP services, urgent care, diagnostic services and non-emergency surgery, maternity care, community nursing, physiotherapy, CT scanners, radiotherapy machines, and ambulance services. Private companies are now involved in running entire hospitals, including A&E departments, not to mention hospital construction under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA) enshrined privatisation as official government policy, but it must not be forgotten that both Blair and Brown’s ‘New Labour’ governments encouraged private providers’ involvement in the health service.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) disclosed that its total spending on all non-NHS bodies has risen from £10.32 billion in 2014 - 15 to £13.75 billion last year, an increase of £3.43 billion or 33% over four years.

This means you may now find that your GP works for a company like Care UK. Tests your GP orders on your behalf like blood tests or scans may be carried out by companies such as In-health. If your GP refers you to hospital for surgery, this might be to a privately-run centre, or to an NHS hospital run by a company like Circle. On leaving hospital, after care may be provided by Virgin Care.

Privatisation is at its most extreme in the mental health and childcare provision sphere. Dr John Lister, secretary of Keep Our NHS Public has said, “Last year (2018), roughly 30% of all mental health spending was in the private sector and 44% of spending on child and adolescent mental health goes to private providers.”

Fifteen of these private companies have links to twenty-four Tory politicians. They include David Cameron, Andrew Landsley, Jo Johnson, William Hague, Nadhim Zahawi, Nick Herbert, Chris Skidmore, Mark Simmonds, Nicholas Soames, Kwasi Kwarteng and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Let us look at a couple of these MPs.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, who famously said that the growth in food banks is “rather uplifting”, is the co-founder of Somerset Capital, a £6.5 billion company based in London, the Cayman Islands and Singapore. He stepped down from the company on his appointment as Leader of the House of Commons, but was then compensated with £1 million from the company’s 2018 profits. If you search the company’s website, you will be no wiser as to how they bring in the moola. Their mission statement has the clarity of mud: “Assessing governance risk and interacting with management teams to protect the value of our investment has been a cornerstone of our investment process since the firm was founded.”

But I have discovered that Somerset Capital has received at least £4 million from one of their clients, Redwood Emerging Markets, who are involved in health technologies and digital support projects. If you want to know how difficult a task it is to get hold on this information, check out this talk by Dominic Johnson of Somerset Capital about Redwood Emerging Markets. Just as with their mission statement above, what is he on about?

Never mind the obfuscations. Channel 4 Dispatches has assured their viewers that there is little obfuscation in Rees-Mogg’s personal finances. He has received over £7 million from Somerset Capital in the last five years.

Nadhim Zahawi, Tory MP and Construction Minister in the Johnson government, whose duties include “better regulation and regulatory reform” is non-executive director of Sthree which won a £2.6 million contract from the NHS. He is paid £2,917 a month by the company for seven hours work. He may have on his busy desk company reports on their work replacing NHS primary care trusts with the company’s clinical commissioning group.

As the second highest earning UK MP, Zahawi acts as Chief Strategy officer for Gulf Keystone Petroleum. With all this work, he still finds time to go riding, although he had to apologise to the Sunday Mirror after they they published a report that he had claimed £5,822 on his parliamentary costs for his stable’s electricity.

During debate on the 2012 HSCA bill, Zahawi called it a “brilliant piece of legislation”. Of course he did.

You might think, So what? So long as treatment remains free when I go to my GP or when I am admitted to hospital, I need not worry. But with growing waiting lists for consultations and surgeries, NHS inadequacies open the door to privatised solutions. And they are already in place or scratching at the door to get in. And not just UK companies.

USA Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) has a lobbying group that supports the role of private company participation in the NHS. The US hospital operator, Tenet Healthcare, acquired Aspen Healthcare in 2015, an operator of private hospitals and clinics in the UK. Tenet said that it hoped that owning Aspen would provide “increasing opportunities to work with and support the National Health Service”. They went on to note that “privatisation of UK marketplace, given market inefficiencies and pressures on the National Health Service, should create organic and de novo opportunities” for their company.

What to expect from all this? Just two examples of what awaits us. The cancer / HIV drug Daraprim presently costs £2.30 per pill in the UK. In the USA the price is £619 per pill. Cataract surgery costs £800 in this country. In the USA that price is £5,780.

And why are so many of the UK companies involved with the health service registered abroad? Surely not to evade the taxes which fund their profits

We have a struggle on our hands to save the NHS. With the Tories actively voting for more and more privatisation and with the Lib Dems abstaining, no prizes for who will do the fighting.

A personal note. As someone whose life has been saved three times by the NHS in the last four years, I will be campaigning for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government.

 

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