‘OUR’ NHS? – my new article on NHS privatisation


Hidden behind its trusted logo ‘our’ NHS is becoming ‘their’ NHS, its services increasingly outsourced to private sector providers. And at a far greater cost to the NHS than if it remained its own provider. Because private providers incur hefty additional legal and management fees, profit margin requirements and private finance costing a lot more than State funding. Is it surprising that NHS costs as a percentage of GDP have doubled since the first major privatisation legislation in 1990?

‘NHS Detectives’ (http://bit.ly/joinTheNHSDetectives) is a 999 Call For The NHS website for the public to pool their discoveries about who their local service providers really are – Healthcare & Transport Services, G4S, x9 Services, Serco, ICS, Care UK, BUPA, InHealth, Bain Capital, Virgin et al. These private companies already provide blood, agency nurses, scanning and diagnostic services, ambulances, disabled transport, portering, cleaning, catering, hospital buildings, post-operative beds and care homes. And the list grows.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust – a mash-up of Charing X, Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea, St Mary’s and Western Eye hospitals – has Sir Richard Brook Sykes as chairman. A prominent biochemist his cv includes chairmanships of GlaxoSmithKline and currently three biotech/health tech companies. He’s also chair of think-tank Reform who want total public spending cut along with taxes so that individuals can provide for their own healthcare needs and obtain high quality services more ‘efficiently’. Paying for your GP visits is one such idea.

This doubtless chimes well with big hitters like United Healthcare, the USA’s largest health insurance and services provider, lining up for the rich pickings to be had from the marketisation of the NHS, the fourth largest business in the world. And with Simon Stevens, United Health’s former head of global health, now CEO of NHS England.

As NHS funding is bled away by costly private providers NHS services become overstretched, wrung-out staff quit and waiting lists mount. The privateers’ hope is that we will seek expensive private health insurance. A US-style insurance-based health service is what leading health and social policy expert Professor Allyson Pollock sees being prepared for us. “We’re facing the Americanisation of our public services,” she says. And we all know the ‘Don’t Get Sick In America’ mantra.

The Imperial Trust has other non-executive private sector notables on its board – Jeremy Isaacs, founder of hedge fund JRJ with an arm in tax haven Jersey. His cv includes spells as a Goldman Sachs director and a Lehman’s overseas CEO until 2008, Lehman’s annus implodius. Rothschild executive vice chairman Dr Andreas Raffelm and Sarika Patel, partner in Zeus Capital, an investment bank heavily into infrastructure and real estate, are also Imperial Trust board members.

Patel has held ‘key roles’ at accountancy giant Grant Thornton. Such accountancy behemoths are the ‘enablers’ between corporate and investment big hitters and their targets. Imperial has a biggie in Sir Gerald Acher, a senior partner at mega auditors KPMG.

Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s non-executive chair is Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, a former banker who promotes the line that “The NHS can’t afford to treat us all for free”. Begging the obvious question that if we could bail out his lot why not the NHS?

His vice-chair is Sir John Baker, whose cv includes leading the UK electricity privatisation programme before becoming CEO of privatised National Power plc. Chelsea & Westminster Trust non-executive director is Jeremy Jensen, director of Aaronite Partners, specialists at ‘restructuring’ distressed businesses. He’s also director of MPG Hospital Holdings who own, operate and lease UK hospitals. Adding her mergers and acquisitions expertise is former BP exec Eliza Hermann.

The US-based Commonwealth Fund recently found NHS performance to be at the top of their league tables despite chronic underfunding (the US came bottom). And a publicly funded and serviced NHS is far cheaper than a privatised one. Bank bailouts and Quantitative Easings (QE) have been a revelation – governments can actually print billions without causing rampant inflation or the collapse of their currencies.

Whether through QE, taxes and/or bonds our government could in fact fully fund the NHS, particularly with interest rates set to remain at historic lows. It’s also an investment that produces tens of thousands of jobs, healthy workers and consumers old and young with spending power to stimulate the economy.

But the NHS, like most of our politicians, has been infected by 30 years of a free-market ideology whose true workings have been exposed by the 2008 Banking Crash and its aftermath. The boards of our local hospitals overseeing the turning over of NHS assets and services to the private sector are symptomatic of that infection.

c) John Furse (September 26th 2015)

(This article can be found on Page 19 of the October issue of Kensington Chelsea & Westminster Today: KCW-oct-2015-final-pages-lo-res. It’s a free local newspaper with a circulation of 80,000)