I was a guest speaker last night at a packed meeting in central Newcastle where we discussed and debated the changes to the NHS. Everyone in the room was very concerned and indeed very angry at what they heard. A lot were unaware of the scale of the issue over privatisation in the English NHS (Scotland has committed to having no private companies running NHS services).
Time and again I hear 'we didn't vote for this at the last election - it wasn't in any manifesto' or 'the coalition have no mandate to make such huge changes to our NHS - no single party won the election'. And I agree with them. The coalition have been very clever in making out GPs were on board with the NHS changes (they weren't) and that it was what the NHS needed (it wasn't) and that the NHS is in a massive hole (it isn't) and their coup de grace is that they are selling off many services to the private sector hidden behind the well trusted and well respected NHS logo. It is privatisation behind an invisibility cloak.
One story last night hit home to me though and explains perfectly why the coalition privatisation of the NHS is disastrous for patients and the taxpayer and also explains the huge difference between NHS GPs and the private sector. Time and again when I debate NHS changes I get the allegation 'you GPs are just like the private sector' - well this story explains exactly why we are poles apart from the corporate sector.....
A few years ago the local NHS managers in Newcastle decided to 'put out to tender' a large GP practice in Newcastle. The bidding process (as I have written on this before) is hugely in favour of large corporate companies who have the back office staff available to fill out the masses of forms and paperwork. They also have the ability to put in a 'low bid' as a loss leader in order to get a foot in the door. Local GPs bidded for the contract but the upshot was that Care UK won the contract much to the anger, and opposition of local patients. Here is the news report in 2012 of the outcome of the bidding process. Please take special note of the reassurances by Care UK that they would 'meet the high standards that the NHS expects of us and which the patients deserve'.
Move the clocks forward two years and last month a shock announcement was made by Care UK that they would be handing the keys back to the surgery they took over in 2012. They gave very little notice and 7,000 patients were very frightened as to whether they would continue to receive care from a GP. Refusing to give reasons why they were walking away from the patients it is quite clear there wasn't adequate profit in the venture for Care UK.
This short story explains clearly why we should not be selling off our English NHS and why the private sector cannot be trusted with NHS contracts. It also explains the huge difference between the private sector and GPs. GPs stay with a practice for their whole career and stay the course when times are bad. The private sector do not do this. They just walk away and move on to the next contract they can make some money on. They have no affinity to the patients or desire to maintain that longitudinal and ever so important doctor/patient relationship.
I hope this explains why many of us campaign to stop the privatisation of the NHS under the disastrous Health and Social Care Act and why we oppose the private sector moving in and winning NHS contracts. The Health Act needs repealing. We need a complete halt to the market in the NHS and for the NHS to be a 'preferred provider' of services to stop the scenario that was explained so clearly last night in Newcastle.
PS One interesting point to note is that Care UK is backed by the huge global private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital. One of Bridgepoint's advisers is no other than Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington from 1992-2010. He was the architect of New Labours opening up of the NHS to the private sector and much has been written elsewhere about this. He is now making a handsome income from advising those who seek to profit from the NHS - those whom he made it possible for them to bid for such contracts. Also of note is that a paid adviser to Bridgepoint Capital is no other than the former Director General of the BBC Lord Patten (former Tory MP for Bath and then Governor of Hong Kong). The BBC have been notorious in failing to highlight the privatisation of the English NHS. The name mentioned to take over from Lord Patten at the BBC (who has stood down due to ill health) is Lord Coe - former Tory MP for Falmouth.
I will leave those sobering thoughts with you.