Private Eye on the Medical Report Discrediting Blair’s NHS Privatisation

This is another piece from an old issue of the satirical magazine, for 15th-25th October 2004. Entitled ‘Kaiser bill’, it discusses a report in the British Journal of General Practice that refutes the arguments for Blair’s privatisation of the NHS and its remodelling after the American private healthcare firm, Kaiser Permanente. The article runs

Last week’s NHS Modernisation Agency conference on the much-hyped treatment centre programme – the mix of private and NHS one-stop units springing up around the country to offer quick and relatively easy diagnosis and surgery – struck a self-congratulatory note.

But a study published this summer suggests there is no evidence that bringing private companies into the NHS is increasing efficiency or reducing costs. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This news will not please the government, which has always promoted health secretary John Reid’s favourite private US healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente, citing a seven-page research paper in the British Medical Journal in 2002 which purported to show that Kaiser offered “better performance at roughly the same costs as the NHS”.

This conclusion, extolling the benefits of competition, was manna from heaven for health ministers who had been criticised for closing 10,000 NHS beds since Labour came to power. But it seems it was all nonsense.

For a start, two of the report’s three authors used to work for Kaiser; and their paper trigger a storm of protest in the US and from the medical and scientific community here, highlighting its flawed analysis and conclusions. It emerged that Kaiser’s costs were deflated while NHS costs were inflated; Kaiser patients were the “working well” but NHS patients included the poor, elderly and chronically ill; and individual Kaiser charges for visits and treatment were ignored.

Nevertheless, the protests were ignored and the paper – described by one leading academic as “not worthy of a first year student” – went on to form British government policy, featuring in the 2002 review of NHS funding by Derek Wanless and the subsequent white paper on how to deliver the NHS plan. The department of health even joined forces with Kaiser in “learning from Kaiser Permanente” projects managing chronic conditions and care.

In the summer, however, the scientific record was finally put straight with a paper in the British Journal of General Practice which comprehensively exposed that the Kaiser paper was propaganda masked as science. It detailed the way in which authors used counting tricks including a curious foreign exchange currency conversion which had the effect of almost doubling NHS costs. Despite this evidence the Kaiser paper still has not been officially withdrawn. Instead it is still promoted on health department websites.

Allyson Pollock, professor of health policy at University College London and one of the authors of the critical BJGP paper said: “There is no evidence that introducing private companies increases efficiency or quality or reduces costs. Indeed, all the evidence goes the other way. Markets – even those underwritten by the state – do not deliver comprehensive universal healthcare. Research in the US has shown how private health providers select the profitable patients, treatments and conditions and at a greater cost than public providers.”‘ Professor Pollock is one of the contributors to Raymond Talllis’ and Jacky Davies’ excellent exposure of the decade’s long privatisation campaign against the Health Service, NHS – SOS.

This is the Blair administration that Keef Stalin idealises, and to whose policies he would like us all to return. At the moment Labour MPs like South Bristol’s Karin Smyth are fighting the government’s NHS privatisation. But I’m sure that Stalin will drop the NHS if there is a chance of getting his rear end in Downing Street. After all, he’s had no qualms about breaking every other promise.

Thatcherism is a monumental failure. It’s time it was comprehensively ended and the Thatcherites thrown out of power – the Tories and Starmer both.

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