Monday 31 January 2022

Hospital workers take on SERCO



The Guardian reports thst “hundreds of workers at NHS hospitals in London including porters, cleaners and catering staff are to go on strike from Monday in a dispute over pay. The staff employed by the outsourcing company SERCO at St Bartholomew’s, the Royal London and Whipps Cross are walking out for two weeks. They are members of the Unite union, which claims that mainly black, Asian and ethnic minority staff are paid up to 15% less than directly employed NHS workers."


As a former Barts patient who had to swallow Serco 'food' for seven weeks and witnessed the disgraceful treatment of the catering and cleaning staff, I am in full support and solidarity with them and will attend the UNITE rally at the hospital Here is what I wrote about Serco soon after my hospital stay.


"Serco provides services in defence, justice and immigration, transport, prisons and catering. In 2006 they started moving into the NHS ‘market’, including clinical services, hospital management and catering.

When I say ‘provides services’ that is not strictly correct. Serco provides nothing. At least nothing tangible. It does provide profits to the company and its shareholders. The actual ‘providing’, of getting a specific job carried out, is done by others. If they have expertise in anything, it is as financial managers and middlemen. Serco sub-contract the real work to others.

In 2014, Serco withdrew from the NHS clinical services market after eight years. This followed a series of loss-making contracts and fines totalling £100 million. They admitted giving false data to the NHS when running GP services. It was reassuring when the company announced there had been “a complete change of management and significant reform of all governance and procedures” It was short-lived.

In 2019, Serco was fined £3 million by the Home Office for contract failures relating to its provision of housing for asylum seekers. In the same year, the firm signed an agreement to escape prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office over a notorious prisoner electronic-tagging scheme run by its subsidiary, Geografix. An investigation found that Geografix had engaged in fraud and false accounting, inventing half a million pounds worth of costs which were ‘complete fabrications’. Serco had to pay the government almost £100 million compensation and legal costs as a result of its subsidiary’s behaviour.

None of this matters because Serco are back, thanks to the government awarding massive NHS contracts without the checks and balances normally applied to contract tenders.

Today they operate 30% of Covid test sites, with the rest run by Sodexo and G4S, Mitie, Boots and the army. Financial ‘oversight’, courtesy of Deloitte. To date, these contracts total £500 million.

These deals have have been kept secret and are not advertised or open to public competition. Furthermore, Serco is allowed to “refine” its own service level agreements, oversee its own monitoring, and are not subject to penalties for underperformance.

David Davis MP, the former Brexit Secretary, has said, “Whilst it’s entirely understandable that the Department of Health have accelerated or maybe even short circuited some of the procurement processes in the circumstances, there is no excuse for secrecy either over the number and size of the contracts and most particularly over the level of service the contracts deliver.”

Professor Allyson Pollock, member of Independent SAGE, said it was “beyond belief” and “extraordinary” that despite “clear evidence of the extraordinary failures of the privatised test and trace system”, the government wasn’t “terminating these contracts and reinvesting it into public health services and labs which have been shown to be highly effective.”

You may have watched Panorama when a NHS health worker reported sitting at home, week after week, waiting to be alloted Covid clients. The phone never rang. The track-and-trace programme itself could not be tracked or traced.

If you check the internet, you can find that everyone from travel agents to rodent infestation companies are grabbing track-and-trace contracts.

Health minister, Edward Argar, was formerly head of public affairs at Serco, while the company’s chief executive, Rupert Soames, is the brother of former Tory MP and party grandee Nicholas Soames.

The fiasco is a result not just of corruption, but of Tory cuts to public health and their dogmatic obsession with outsourcing. Instead of throwing money at these private firms, they should have invested in the NHS and their labs to build an effective track-and-tracing service.


When I research the background to the coronavirus ‘business’, I am reminded of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, but without the humour. “They buy my tomatoes at four cents apiece and sell them back to me the next day for five cents apiece. They make a profit of one cent apiece. I make a profit of three and a half cents apiece.”

Time to sit down and read Heller’s book again. But before I do I will get down to the Unite Barts picket line.


The two  "Serco" ward caterers, Olivia Ellor-Freeman and Lydia Kortey, who brought me tea when I had forgotten to ask for it

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Pay to Live



I have a friend who has had six heart operations: three on her valves, one ablation and two cardioversions for irregulat heartbeat; the last one four months ago. 


A few days ago she attended her hospital for an ECG test and was told she needed a further cardioversion and that her condition was an ‘emergency’. This could not be carried out immediately because the hospital were short-staffed. ‘Don’t worry’, she was told, ‘you are not going to die’. 


The hospital told her she must not leave home as she might collapse. Once home, she felt ill and frightened. Living alone she is entirely dependent on outside support for all her living needs. When she rang the hospital to see if a date could be fixed for the procedure she was told that she could have the cardioversion in a week’s time as a private patient. The cost would be £2,500 with extra costs if they had to keep her as an in-patient. The NHS operation would be two weeks later and would involve the same staff and the same procedure. 


She is scared and when I told her she must make sure friends and emergency services were able to gain easy access to her home she started crying with fear and worry. ‘I can’t even peel an orange’ were her final words to me as I left. 


A strong supporter of the NHS she has been offered money from friends and relatives if she attends as a private patient. She asked me what I would do in the same circumstances. I said I would start with this blog to declare my contempt for a government that has left her with this dilemma - Your life is safer if you can pay.

Thursday 20 January 2022

A Collage of Memories


26 March 2022

Woke up to coffee, messages, cards and memories from family and friends. When you get to my age, you understand the importance of living in the moment. 

Here is Anne with her collage of postcards from our travels and that is NOT us on that m/bike, but thank you Seb and Grainne for sending it to me. Seven years after my great friend made this banner with words from Maureen, gratitude to Alice for seeing me through difficult times. I'm sorry she didn’t. As for Anne? She saved my life and has been the one who carried me across those deep waters.

Thursday 6 January 2022

Disruptive nanotechnology - at least the name and intent is honest



The Guardian reports that "Two entrepreneurs with no apparent background in healthcare have made £20m – and could make tens of millions more – after landing roles as middlemen between the UK government and a US firm that won £3.7bn of contracts to supply lateral flow tests. Charles Palmer, whose background is in property, and Kim Thonger, a former shoe retailer, are the co-owners of Disruptive Nanotechnology, a business that had just £85 in the bank and debts of £3,592 at the end of 2019."

Meanwhile Boris Johnson says some hospitals feel "at least temporarily overwhelmed” and heart attack patients calling 999 in parts of northern England are being asked to get a lift instead of waiting for an ambulance.

My question is: what has happened to the £37 billion which was available to the NHS for the Covid crisis. A rhetorical question because we know it went into the pockets of Disruptive and other Tory crony companies.

It’s only because an ambulance came for me within minutes of being called that I am here today. And the NHS has saved my life on three occasions. I would call down nine of the biblical plagues, water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts and darkness, on this evilly corrupt government, but then they would need the NHS to save their lives.