NHS Privatisation & Protestation


Next time you visit your GP (if you still have one) pick up a copy of the BMA leaflet warning of the commercialisation of the NHS. On Wednesday, The Guardian published a leading article with the title “Tory adviser’s firm stands to benefit from cuts”. This relates to the fact that Sir Peter Gershon who is acting as an adviser to the Conservatives on ‘efficiency savings’ is also now non-executive Chairman of General Healthcare Group Ltd. This is the same ‘Peter Gershon’ who was appointed to a similar advisory role on joining the Civil Service in April 2000 as the first Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) with a remit to lead a major change programme to reform the way UK Central Civil Government handles over £13 billion p.a. of public procurement.

In August 2003 Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, invited Peter Gershon to lead a major review of efficiency across the whole UK Public Sector (excluding Scotland and Wales). By July 2004 the review had secured agreement to, and developed initial plans for the delivery of, a programme leading to over £20 billion of savings in 07/08. After more than 4 years of public service Peter returned to the private sector in 2004 as ‘Sir Peter’. If there is a question to be asked regarding The Guardian article, it is not whether the ‘General Healthcare Group Ltd’ and Sir Peter will benefit from any efficiency savings that the Conservatives may introduce, but rather “How much more they will benefit over and above those benefits already gleaned from New Labour privatisation of healthcare services” A steady ‘commercialisation’ has been a flagship New Labour policy. It’s a bit rich of The Guardian to lead with such a headline and for Trade Union leaders to have a composite letter printed in The Guardian, when they have been complicit; at least it seems up until now, in the steady erosion of public sector services under a New Labour government.

As the BMA leaflet points out: –

  • New Labour has introduced ‘NHS Treatment Centres’, which Commercial companies have been encouraged to run and at which they are allowed to ‘cherry-pick’ the clinical services they provide. This tends to favour the more routine – and cheaper -treatments, leaving the NHS to pick up the more complex, costly treatments. These Treatment Centres have been guaranteed money even if they don’t treat the number of patients they have been paid to treat. Millions of pounds have been wasted this way.
  • The private sector is also involved in the building and running of NHS hospitals in England under a complex scheme called the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). This was originally introduced as a way of funding public building projects such as hospitals, schools and roads, using private money and expertise. These private companies build the hospitals which the NHS then pays for over a period of 25-30 years – a bit like a mortgage but with a very high rate of interest which is guaranteed to be paid from the public purse. But a lot of these contracts proved very costly and have left many hospitals with crippling debts.
  • Some of these private developers are also struggling to meet their financial commitments but have been saved by the government giving them public money, through the banks, to bail them out, rather than see their unpopular PFI policy fail.
  • Every Primary Care Trust (PCT) in England has been told by the Department of Health to set up a ‘Darzi centre’ in its area. But these have often been set up regardless of the cost, the need or local views, and many are set up in areas where there are perfectly good existing GP practices. Commercial companies have been encouraged to run these new centres. This is wasteful and potentially damaging to existing practices.

I am sure that New Labour will put a spin on the ‘mass protest’ being organised on April 10, claiming that it is a protest in defence of what the Conservatives intend to do. But be aware that this protest is a response to what has, and is, already being done to the public service sector (however cynically, and/or politically motivated those involved, including the BMA, happen to be).

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