Archive for January, 2015

From 2002: Kaiser Healthcare Lobbies for NHS Work

January 31, 2015

Private Eye published this article below in their edition for 12th – 25th July 2002. It discusses the lobbying of the then-Labour government for NHS contracts by Kaiser Permanente, a US private healthcare company. As a private company, Kaiser Permanente did not provide cover for the poorest fifth of the US population. This is pretty much indicative of the companies now queuing up for access to the health service, now being privatised piecemeal by the Tories. And if this continues, this is how British healthcare will look after the NHS is privatised.

Hail Kaiser!

While health ministers inside the House of Commons continue to accuse the Tories of intending to privatise the NHS, outside the Commons they themselves are showing increasing sign of sympathy with moves to, er, privatise the NHS.
In
Eye 1056 we referred to a paper in the British Medical Journal by American doctors pointing out the advantages of Kaiser Permanente, a huge private health organisation in California with keen ambitions to expand in the UK.

On 20 June the annual lecture of the Office of Health Economics, financed entirely by the drugs industry, was delivered in the prestigious headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians. The speaker was David Lawrence, departing chief executive of Kaiser Permanente. He outlined the tremendous advantages of providing health care the Kaiser way, without making any effort to deal with the chief objection: that as a private organisation financed by private insurance, Kaiser cannot and does not provide health care for the poorest 20 percent of California’s population.

The NHS, on the other hand, does not exclude anyone on grounds of income or wealth. The Eye’s many spies at the lecture, which was packed with representatives of the drug companies (though the health department was conspicuous by its absence), describe Dr Lawrence’s performance as “long on charm, short on facts.”

Almost simultaneously, and naturally by coincidence, the authors of the original pro-Kaiser paper in the BMJ have replied in that journal to the loud and almost universal criticism of it from defenders of the NHS. Somehow, rather like Dr Lawrence, the fails to deal with the main and obvious criticism that Kaiser does not provide health care for the poorest (and therefore usually the sickest) fifth of the population.

In his speech Lawrence referred several times to his cooperation with and admiration for “Don” – believed to be a reference to Don Berwick, a keen American medical privatiser who has just been appointed by the government to the National Health Service modernisation board.

Meanwhile more news about Kaiser comes to the Eye from the Los Angeles Times whose 17 May issue carried the curious headline: KAISER CLERKS PAID MORE FOR HELPING LESS. The paper revealed that in 200 and 2001, call centre clerks working for Kaiser could earn bonuses of up to 10 percent of their salaries if they spent less than three minutes 45 seconds on the phone per patient.

The call centres were available to Kaiser’s three million members in Northern California. The bonus system was denounced by the California Nurses Association, representing Kaiser’s registered nurses. They complained that the call centre system allowed unlicensed telephone clerks to make decisions about scheduling appointments or referring patients to medical advice nurses. The association claimed such a task was restricted by state law to “licensed medical personnel”. The newspaper also quotes a doctor at one of the call centres describing the system as “a barrier between patients and their clinical providers”.

While a substantial section of the medical establishment sucks up to Kaiser, there are increasing signs of the close relationship between the government, the Labour party and the private health and drugs industries. On 27th May, for instance, health minister Lord Hunt, a champion of PFI in the health service, opened the spanking new High Wycombe Centre for the drugs company Pharmacia; and the Fabian Society, a constituent part of the Labour Party , whose founders proclaimed the advantages of public ownership, is running a monthly lecture (plus the usual buffet lunch) as part of its Health Policy Forum, proudly inaugurated last October by health secretary Alan Milburn.

The forum is in association with (and mostly paid for by) the enormous French drugs company Aventis, whose annual turnover is $18bn.

Ed Miliband has made it clear he intends to reverse the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS. He needs our support, and provides hope that the NHS can be saved.

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From 2000: SEMA – the Atos of its Day

January 31, 2015

Private Eye in its issue for Friday, 19th May 2000, carried the story below on the establishment of the Work Capability Tests. These were originally a Tory idea, but where put into practice by Blair’s Labour after their election victory in 1997. The contract to administer the tests were awarded to Sema. Their conduct of them was so appalling that it was the subject of a report by the House of Commons social services committee.

Cringe Benefits

It was a Tory idea to begin with: how to make more money out of the disabled for a big private company.

After a “study of options” about what to do with the rather expensive government system for examining disabled people to see if they were entitled to benefit, the Tory government concluded that contracting out to the private sector was “most likely to deliver the improvements sought”.

Tory ministers agreed and the publicly-owned Benefits Agency Medical Services was divided into three areas “to encourage competition in terms of bids”. the Tory government fell in the spring of 1997, to be replaced by Labour with a huge majority and a secretary of state for social services, Harriet Harman, who had been eloquent in her condemnation of privatisation.

Ms Harman, however, was at once convinced of the case for privatising the testing of the disabled, and in February 1998 (in the interests of competition) she awarded the contracts for all three areas to one company, SEMA.

It was a juicy contract too. A government memorandum at the time announced that the three contracts would cost the government £305m, a figure, which the memo announced, “represented savings of £62m” compared with what the service used to cost the taxpayer.

One problem which soon became clear was that SEMA had no medical experience whatever. The British Medical Association, disgusted by the company’s treatment of doctors and patients, complained officially that SEMA executives “did not understand the complexities, having had no experience of employing doctors”. This obviously worried the company so much that when the five original bidders were invited to discuss the complexities of their new contract with the BMA, which represents most British doctors, two declined, including SEMA.

If it didn’t have any doctors or medically qualified staff, SEMA made sure it was well-stocked with “new” Labour lobbyists. It hired Westminster Strategy, which had a batch of such lobbyists on tap: Jo Moore, former Labour press officer; Mike Lee, who used to work for David Blunkett; and former chair of the Fabian Society and wanabee Labour candidate Mike Dauber. To clinch the business, SEMA acquired the then employment minister Andrew Smith as a speaker at its glittering conferences (see Eye 955).

Partly to make up for this lack of experience, SEMA engaged two companies as sub-contractors to do the new work, Nestor Healthcare Group and Nestor Disability Analysts. The board of the former was graced by a former Tory MP, Charles Goodison-Wickes, who quickly made way for the more acceptable Anne Parker, who chairs the Carers Association and is an examiner for the Child Support Agency. Nestor Healthcare has just branched into prisons, explaining in true “new” Labour tradition that “prisoner numbers are steadily growing”.

The performance of these SEMA subsidiaries and of privatisation in general, has recently been examined in detail by the House of Commons social services committee, whose shocking report has just been published. “To often”, says the report, “the organisation fails to deliver an adequate service … at its worst it puts claimants through examinations which are painful and distressing and gives poor advice.”

Bizarre examples of the doctors’ hostility to the people they are examining are provided by the report. In one case a patient was described as healthy because she could sit up watching television for up to two hours. In fact this patient could only watch television lying down. In another case a patient’s dirty fingernails were submitted as evidence of his ability to work in the garden – whereas in fact he could not even wash himself.

The conclusion makes sad reading for the “new” Labour lobbyists and privatisers of past years. There has been no improvement whatever. “Our inquiry has led us to conclude that, so far, the primary focus of SEMA has been on operational efficiency to achieve value for money rather than the delivery of a quality service.”

How has Labour responded so far to these devastating allegations? It has handed over a confidential contract for running the Labour party’s own membership records to … SEMA. And SEMA’s subsidiary Nestor has won a contract for the provision of an immigration centre for Group 4.

Since then, SEMA has been replaced by ATOS, who have now been replaced by Maximus, but still have the contract for administering the test for the Personal Independence Payments. ATOS made sure it avoided one of the criticisms of SEMA – that it didn’t have enough doctors or medically qualified staff. For patients and claimants, however, this has made absolutely no difference. The administrators of the Work Capability Test are still hostile towards those whom they are examining. Subsequent Tory policies, like those of Iain Duncan ‘Tosser’ Smith, have made this even worse. Maximus are going to be no different. Given the previous performance of the companies administering the test, they are likely to be worse.

There is even a lesson here for the recent recruitment of Sue Marsh, a disability campaigner, by Maximus. SEMA’s subsidiary, Nestor Healthcare, had on its board Anne Parker. As well as being an examiner for the Child Support Agency, she was also the chair of the Carers Association. This was doubtless to give the impression that the tests were to be fair, with the object of helping the disabled and their carers. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

This is the policy the Tories produced and are developing. It becomes nastier, more vindictive and humiliating every day. It’s high time the Tories were kicked out of office.

NATO and the Economic Exploitation of Eastern Europe

January 31, 2015

I also found this little piece in ‘The View from the Bridge’ column in Lobster 45, reproducing statements from elsewhere that NATO was being used to exploit the former eastern bloc countries that have joined it after the fall of Communism. Although over a decade old, it’s relevant now as we are in period of diplomatic tension with Russia over the civil war in Ukraine. This has been presented as a case of pro-Western Ukrainian patriots attempting to free themselves from Russian domination. The reality is somewhat murkier, as the pro-Western side themselves were guilty of considerable corruption. It also includes open Neo-Nazis.

Under Comecon and the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union did indeed exploit its satellite economically, and dominate them militarily through a complex of joint industrial companies, trade treaties and military obligations. If the two pieces cited in the Lobster article are to be believed, then NATO is little better.

NATO and Eastern Europe
Who wrote the following?

‘Nato is now a device to exert control and extract cash. Those who resist, like Belarus, are punished… All eastern European states are required to sell off their national economic assets to foreigners, and close down their agriculture by accepting the dumping of subsidised EU food imports. This creates massive social disruption and unemployment. In addition, they must spend 2% of the GDP on defence, preferably on arms made in the US.

Consequently, a small country like Lithuania, whose economy has collapsed so catastrophically, has just announced the purchase of $34 million worth of Stinger missiles, made by the Raytheon Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. When Tanzania announced it was spending $40 million on a new civilian air traffic control system, there was an outcry; but Lithuania, whose official GDP is not much larger than Tanzania’s, will have to spend $240m on arms every year as the price for Nato membership. And Lithuania is just one of seven new member states, all of which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on arms’.

Someone on the left? Paul Foot? Greg Palast? John Pilger? None of the above. (None of the above would use the term foreigners…) They were written by John Laughland, generally presented and perceived as an anti-EU right-winger. But take out the word foreigners…

Along similar lines the following appeared on John Young’s Cryptome site a month later:

It might interest your readers to understand the aggressive US tactics used to win the Lockheed F-16 deal with Poland last week. Information from an official translator who has first-hand knowledge of various meetings … an aggressive campaign, including electronic surveillance to ensure that Lockheed, rather than Swedish/French rivals, won an order for fighter jets. This campaign included … If Lockheed’s offer was not successful, the US would block or substantially reduce World Bank and International Finance Corporation loan/assistance package worth an estimated $1.4 billion (measured over 2003-2005); US officials warned that the loss of the Lockheed deal would create “substantial setbacks” for Poland’s activities within NATO which could prevent the placement of Polish military officials in special NATO committees and command structures … the US official restated that Poland would not have preferential treatment in the reorganisation of Baltic Sea deployments and planning should Lockheed fail in its bid.’

This makes you really wonder what the reality behind the ousting of President Yanukovych in Ukraine really was, and who was supposed to benefit: the Ukrainian people, or Western multinationals.

Libertarian Alliance on Rightwing Entryism into Labour

January 31, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political suggested that just as the extreme Right and Left have a policy of entryism – infiltrating more moderate parties and organisations in order to take them over and radicalise, so some ostensible Labour party members with free market views were really Tories, who had similarly infiltrated Labour. He was particularly discussing Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary, who criticised Ed Miliband’s speech about expanding the NHS. During his period in office, Milburn was extremely active with Patricia Hewitt in promoting the introduction of private healthcare into the NHS and its piecemeal privatisation.

Connected to the New Labour project was the thinktank Demos. This was ostensibly left-wing, but in fact contained a number of extremely right-wing business leaders and academics. It has been described by one of the leaders of the Libertarian Alliance as

a cavalry of Trojan horses within the citadel of leftism. The intellectual agenda is served up in a left wing manner, laced with left wing clichés and verbal gestures, but underneath all the agenda is very nearly identical to that of the Thatcherites.

See the article ‘Demos’, by William Clark in Lobster 45, Summer 2003.

There you have it. The Libertarians themselves have more or less stated that the free marketeers in Labour are entryists. It’s high time support was shown to Miliband, and these Trojan horses put out to grass.

The types of UKIP activists and politicians

January 31, 2015

Ducksoap here catalogues the five types of UKIP politico – frustrated Tory careerists, embittered elderly reactionaries, slimy young opportunists, self-publicising weirdoes with a penchant for shooting themselves in the foot, and the litigious, who try to stifle any criticism with a threat of action from m’learned friends. We have seen how UKIP has repeatedly attempted to suppress any criticism with such threats, even sending round the rozzers to close down a Green Party blogger. Ducksoap’s article really does show you that UKIP is the political haven for the avaricious, the sad and bitter, and the incompetent.

ducksoap

UKIP is a raggedy concoction of the dregs and peripherals of society.  Its activists, councillors, MPs, MEPs, parliamentary and council candidates, and chairpersons of various propaganda subgroups are easily categorised by a finite list of types.

1) Tory careerists

Only a few MPs in the Tory party are able to acquire senior positions that lead to political celebrity and visibility, that subsequently lead to lucrative post-political career consultancy posts.  If a careerist wants to make the most dosh out of her or his election as an MP then occasional garbled nonsense from the backbenches is insufficient.UKIPRecklessCarswell

Reckless and Carswell had made little impact as Tory MPs; both were lost within the twitching blob several rows behind Cameron.  Reckless’ main claim to fame was his inability to open a door due to drunkenness.  In UKIP, both are out front, grinning stupidly next to Farage as if he and they have farted simultaneously, slobbering media jostling around…

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From 1997: Failure of Privatised Welsh Hospital

January 31, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has been covering and refuting the Tories’ accusations of poor performance in the NHS in Wales. This is part of the Tories’ campaign to try and discredit the NHS throughout Britain, and replace it with an insurance-funded system on the American model. It is also deeply mendacious, especially considering the failings of various private health initiatives, which have been introduced into the NHS by them and New Labour. Like this story from Private Eye’s edition of the 4th April 1997. This reported the failings of private enterprise community hospital in Barry.

Redwood’s Net on the Tiles

The new unreadable book by John Redwood, sensitively published during the election campaign to cause maximum embarrassment to John Major, devotes many pages to the glories of privatisation, especially in the health service.

Anyone who wants to test these theories should pay a visit to the brand new community hospital in Barry, South Wales.

The hospital was built by Sir Robert McAlpine, the family firm of the former treaturer of the Tory party, Alistair McAlpine. But there was an irritating element of public enterprise in the project in the shape of the Welsh Health and Community Services Association (WHCSA), which acted as project manager.

When Redwood became secretary of state for Wales in 1993, he ordered a clean-up of any nasty deposits of public enterprise still lying around. Thus the project management at Barry hospital was privatised. The better – and more expensive architects and surveyors – were replaced by “more affordable” personnel, and 1996 the whole project management of Barry Hospital was handed to Beard Dove Ltd, a subsidiary of Capita Plc.

All sorts of things have gone wrong at the hospital. Tiles from the roof have been falling off in the high winds. To contain the tiles, the whole roof has been covered in green plastic netting, earning the hospital the nickname, the Ena Sharples Memorial Home. The boilers were so disastrous that throughout last winter patients were shoved from ward to ward to keep warm.

Last month the Landough Hospital Trust (chairman: former chairman of the Welsh Tory party Sir Donald Walters) discovered to its horror that, in its own words, “minimal progress has been made” in putting any of this right. The remedy was obvious. Beard Dove was “relinquished” from it contract and project management went back to, er, WHCSA … whose operation at Barry Hospital John Redwood at Barry Hospital John Redwood had insisted on privatising.

WHCSA is now negotiating with McAlpines to see how much more public money has to be spent to save the hospital from the private enterprise disasters which have engulfed it.

John Redwood was one of the group of extremely right-wing Tory MPs, who tried to unseat John Major in the 1990s. He used to refer to them as ‘the bastards’, or, according to Private Eye, ‘Ward 8 from Broadmoor’.

A few weeks ago we saw a similar process occur, as Circle Health walked away from their contract to administer NHS hospitals amidst a scandal of appallingly low performance and disgusting neglectful treatment of patients. Circle Health complained that they simply couldn’t make a profit from the management of the hospitals.

The failure of the privatised project management of the Barry community hospital and its effective renationalisation was a prefiguration of the failures to come.

And we can expect more such failures as the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS continues. Though if the Tories are successful, there won’t be any remaining NHS to return them to.

Just a future of public expense, private profiteering, poor performance and ultimately zero, or near zero patient care unless you can pay.

From 2005: Failure of Private Medical Scans Brought into NHS

January 31, 2015

I found this article in Private Eye’s edition for the 19th August – 1st September 2005, reporting the extremely poor performance of the private MRI scans administered by Alliance and Medical as part of the then Labour government’s privatisation of the NHS. They were so poor, that the results had to be double-checked by NHS staff.

Alliance Medical
Double Cheques

Last June, as part of Labour’s drive to transfer NHS duties to the private sector, health minister John Hutton awarded a £95m scanning contract to Alliance Medical. he claimed that private MRI scans would increase capacity and prove “good value for money”.

The deal was certainly good value for Alliance and its parent company Bridgepoint Capital, which – by an eerie coincidence – was employing Alan Milburn MP as a £30,000-a-year consultant at the time when Milburn’s old flatmate John Hutton awarded the contract. But it didn’t turn out to be quite such good news for patients, especially as most of the scan images were sent abroad for analysis – leading to delays, language misunderstandings and mistakes in diagnoses.

“I think everyone acknowledges that it has been a complete disaster,” Dr Gill Markham, chair of the BMA’s radiology sub-committee, told the Today programme in February.

After early complaints about the quality of Alliance’s work, the government appointed Professor Adrian Dixon of the Royal College Radiologists as a “national clinical guardian” to monitor standards. According to documents obtained by the Eye, Prof Dixon’s advice is that “because of anxieties concerning reports in the first few months of the contract, it would seem prudent that cases scheduled for surgery or similar intervention on the basis of an AML
[Alliance Medical Ltd] report issued up to the end of 2004 should be discussed with the local radiology department.”

In other words, scans carried out last year by Alliance now have to be double-checked by NHS radiologists – thus placing an extra burden on the health service’s time and resources.

Alliance’s failures haven’t deterred ministers, however. In July, health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced a “choice of scans” programme whereby people waiting more than six months for various diagnostic tests – including MRI and CAT scans – will be able to go beyond their local provider and get a speedier service from private firms such as Alliance. But how speedy are they? In an audit of Alliance’s work for the NHS, conducted in May, Prof Dixon discovered that although the company scanned patients more quickly, this advantage was sometimes lost because Alliance was then “twice as slow” to report the results.

In a direct comparison of Alliance’s work with that of its NHS counterparts, Dixon noted that “the language was better in most NHS-generated reports”, and that “clinical opinion was judged slightly better in most NHS reports”.

The Royal College reacted to the audit by warning that Alliance is only “suitable for non-complex examinations”. It added that NHS staff should keep a “clerical/governance” check on Alliance work to make sure that reports about “serious lesions” are spotted and fast-tracked.

The Eye asked the department of health if – and how – it would be funding all this extra double-checking work, but answer came there none.

This story is still important, as the government is privatising the NHS piecemeal under the assumption that private enterprise is more efficient. As this story shows, it is not. Indeed, without the results being double-checked by the NHS, the poor results of the private medical scans would be a danger to patients’ health.

The privatisation of the NHS needs to be stopped. Now.

Ministry of Justice reverses burden of proof in advice to defendants

January 31, 2015

This is ironic, considering that it’s the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and its clauses limiting the arbitrary powers of the state, and guaranteeing the right to a fair trial. But please, see also in this thread ‘Gary’s’ comment about non-jury trials and the forthcoming prosecution of journalist and blogger Chris Spivey for harassment, despite the fact that no complaint was made about him, and he has not been prosecuted under civil law.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the UK today!)

The Ministry of Justice has produced what it calls an “easy to read” guide for defendants who are going to a Crown Court trial.

However, the MoJ – in a rather patronising bid to simplify its explanations as much as possible – seems to have reversed one of the most basic principles of law: that in a Crown Court the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and not with the defendant:

moj mistake

Mind you – with nearly a quarter of defendants who are sentenced not having a fair trial due to government cuts to legal aid – it may be easier to just presume people who can’t afford a lawyer are guilty and do away with any pretence of justice in UK courts altogether.

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Please feel free to share. And comment.

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The Coalition Government Colouring and Activity Book is now available for download as a PDF and in…

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Vox Political: Parents Forced to Starve as DWP Stops Child Cancer Victim’s Benefits

January 30, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has a particularly harrowing tale of the sheer callousness and vindictiveness of IDS from the Cambridge News. The DWP have stopped the disability payments made for a seven year old boy, Tommi Miller battling cancer, as he is getting better. His parents, Ruth and Kevin, are facing eviction because of the lack of money coming in, and have been forced to cut back on food and heating. This is despite the fact that the poor lad is still receiving radiation treatment and having weekly reviews. He has also relapsed.

Mike’s story is Boy battling cancer has benefits stopped. It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/30/boy-battling-cancer-has-benefits-stopped/.

There really is no depths to which the Tories and the DWP will not stoop.

What makes this particularly sickening is that IDS’ own wife was in the news a week or so ago. She had also suffered from cancer and fortunately made a good recovery. I don’t begrudge her returning to health, and indeed congratulate her on it. I despise her husband, however, for denying others the treatment and care his wife received during her illness. Mike reported about a week ago on his blog that the Tories had cancelled several cancer operations over the Christmas period. The suffering of this little lad and his family are another, direct result of RTU ‘Tosser’ Smith’s policies. They need to be ejected from power as soon and as swiftly as possible.

Looming Staffing Crisis In The NHS As Atos And Maximus Try To Steal All The Nurses

January 30, 2015

the void

Hippocrates1Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal and bungled welfare reforms could be set to the plunge the NHS into chaos as nurses and doctors are paid huge sums to carry out benefit-slashing assessments instead of working in our chronically understaffed hospitals.

Last year the Royal College of Nusring warned that a lack of senior nurses in the NHS is putting patient care at risk.  This followed a report a year earlier from the Department of Health funded  Centre for Workplace Intelligence which found that the NHS will face a shortfall of 47,545 nurses by 2016.  It is not just Tory cost cutting set to cause this crisis in the NHS, but a lack of suitably qualified homegrown nurses.  Last year The Guardian reported that the shortage is already so acute that one in five nurses employed between 2013/14 had to be recruited from overseas.

US firm Maximus are the company brought…

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