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April 27, 2012 / politicsbitesize

Private Healthcare in the NHS

The Chancellor's Building, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - a PFI built hospital

On Tuesday 24th April two of the UK’s biggest private healthcare companies (United Healthcare and Capita) sponsored a meeting held with Clinic Commissioning Group leaders. The day was billed as an event for GPs involved in the CCGs to voice their concerns to the National Commissioning Board, Monitor and the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley. But, who are these healthcare providers anyway?

According to their website, ‘United Healthcare is a Healthcare Consultancy with expertise in Medical Equipping, Project Management, Bid Management, Finance & Contractual arrangements’. Their remit is to advise hospitals funded by Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) on legal and financial matters. A PFI hospital is one built using private capital, which is a way of creating lucrative Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)*. As of May 2010, the Partnerships UK website has listed 920 PFI projects throughout Britain.

Capita are a private company who hold a number of contracts to provide the public sector with frontline services. The company has grown significantly since 2008 when it decided to focus on healthcare in the public sector. It secures large outsourcing contracts that include running and maintaining the NHS Choices website, running the NHS Business Services Authority and operating the new Information Standard. The Capita Group Plc is a FTSE100 company with revenues, for 2009, of £2.7 million. Since 2010, Capita’s contract with the NHS covered the IT and payment services for the BSA’s dental service division, which was worth £133m.

It seems, then, that private healthcare businesses have been involved in the NHS for a number of years and PFI hospitals were being built toward the end of Tony Blair’s office. So, is private healthcare in the NHS here to stay? As Politics:bitesize has already reported, the controversial Health and Social Care bill was passed by the House of Lords and given Royal Assent in March 2012. But research into the number of MPs and Lords who have vested interests in private healthcare by the Daily Mirror and Dr Éoin Clarke has thrown up some shocking results.

The article in the Daily Mirror highlighted some 40 peers with financial interests in reforming the NHS. Further probing, however, by the Social Investigations website has uncovered at least 80 lords. The research conducted by Dr Éoin Clarke into this issue has revealed that, ‘333 donations from private healthcare sources totalling £8.3 million have been gifted to the Tories’. It also tells us that one in four Conservative peers, one in six Labour peers, one in six Crossbench peers and one in ten Liberal Democratic peers have financial interests in companies involved in the private healthcare industry.

These are troubling figures. Many a lucrative contract is to be made from the reforms presently going through the NHS and it seems that peers and MPs from all the parties stand to make a pretty penny or two from them. Whether or not the voice of the people can actually make a difference to the future of the NHS remains to be seen. In the meantime, if enough of us shout loudly, we might be able to at least slow the systematic privatisation of the NHS down. 38 Degrees would like to keep the campaigning going and you can join the discussion at: www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/what-next-on-the-nhs-

* See Dexter Whitfield’s books Global Auction of Public Services and In Place of Austerity for full details of this practice.

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