Posts Tagged ‘DHSS’

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Outrageous! Government Uses Pandemic to Privatise Even More of the NHS

May 7, 2020

So much for the real respect the Tories have for the NHS! Yesterday Mike put up a piece based on a report in the Guardian about the government pushing through the privatisation of even more NHS services through emergency powers designed to deal with the pandemic.

These powers have allowed the Tories to circumvent the usual tendering processes and award contracts to private healthcare companies and management consultants without the usual competition. The Groan reported that doctors, academics, MPs and campaign groups raised their concerns about this after it emerged on Monday that the outsourcing company, Serco, was in the lead to get the contract to supply 15,000 call handlers for the government’s track and trace operation.

And where Serco goes, the other outsourcing companies aren’t far behind. Deloitte, KPMG, Sodexo, Boots, Mitie, as well as Serco and the American data-mining group Palantir have also been given government contracts to run the Coronavirus drive-in testing centres, purchase PPE equipment and build nightingale hospitals.

They’ve also decided to centralise part of the purchasing process and hand it to yet another private company. The Groan stated that it had seen a letter from the Department of Health instructing local hospitals not to buy their own PPE and ventilators. Instead, purchasing of a list of 16 items, including were to be handled centrally. The items include PPE, but also general, high-value equipment such as CT and ultrasound scanners and mobile X-ray machines.

The Groan considered that this would hand more power to Deloitte, as not only was the accountancy and management consultants responsible for coordinating Covid-19 test centres and logistics at three new ‘lighthouse’ laboratories, they were also given a contract three weeks ago to advise the government on PPE purchases. As the provision of PPE has been absolutely deplorable, with equipment needed her exported abroad, insufficient supplies coming late from Turkey and other faults, so that doctors and nurses have been forced to use masks and gowns made by the public, and even bin-bags, Deloitte should be sacked and fined for their massive incompetence.

Mike makes the point that at the time PPE should be available to as many people as possible, the government is actually making it more expensive. He states that if Jeremy Corbyn had won the election, these items would be free. He also makes the point that it is alleged that Corbyn was prevented from doing so because of sabotage from the right-wingers in his own party. A genuinely free, publicly funded and nationalised NHS was one of the things the intriguers didn’t want. Presented with the evidence of this plotting and sabotage, one Labour MP remarked that it explained why he experienced so much resistance to his attempts to have it accepted as Labour policy that NHS services should be taken back in house. Alan Milburn, Tony Blair’s health secretary, wanted the NHS fully privatised so that it would become simply a logo for services provided by private healthcare companies for the state.

This shabby policy also shows how desperate the Tories are to give rewards to their own donors. a few weeks ago Zelo Street posted up a piece about how one company, which was set to supply ventilators for the government were told that this was off. Instead, the order went out to Dyson, who’s donated something like £10 million to the Tory coffers. This does not seem to be a coincidence.

I also came across a report somewhere that said that the big accountancy firms, Deloitte, KPMG, whatever Anderson Consulting is now, were in trouble. Most of their money comes from consultancy work, but this has dried up since the lockdown. Good! I’m still angry with these parasites for the way they trashed the inland revenue and DHSS for the Tories in the 1980s and ’90s. I don’t think any of them should be given any kind of government contract whatsoever.

It is thanks to the NHS and not a private healthcare system like America’s that the death toll from Boris’ idleness and incompetence isn’t massively higher. It’s a savage indictment of ten years of Tory privatisation and underfunding as it is. This is another example of how much the Tories ‘treasure’ the NHS. They will treasure it right up to the time they sell the last piece of it off.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/06/tories-are-accelerating-destruction-of-the-nhs-just-when-we-really-need-it/

‘I’ Newspaper: True Number of Claimant Suicides May Be Far Higher than Thought

February 11, 2020

Mike’s already covered this story about the National Audit Office’s criticism of the DWP over claimant suicides. Here’s the I’s report on the issue from Saturday’s edition, 8th February 2020, by Same Blewett.

The suicides of 69 welfare claimants have been investigated by the Government but the true scale of such deaths may be far higher, a watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said it was “highly unlikely” that the cases completed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) amounted to all those that could have been investigated in the past six years.

A failure to keep a robust record of investigations in the past and now failing to give clear guidance on when investigations should be launched were highlighted by the government watchdog. Only nine internal process reviews (IPRs) arose from communications with coroners; 19 were prompted by media reports while others were triggered by claimants’ families.

Figures also showed a steady rise in investigations, with the 21 cases investigated between April and November outnumbering the total of the previous two years combined.

“It is highly unlikely that the 69 cases the Department has investigated represents the number of cases it could hvae investigated in the past six years,” the report said.

A DWP spokeswoman said the department was taking the findings “extremely seriously”.

I’ve no doubt that the number of suicides is higher, much higher. But the DWP hasn’t taken them seriously. Or rather, it has, but only as a threat to their policy of culling the sick and the poor. The department did everything it could to dodge having to give the stats to Mike on the number of people, who died after being found fit for work by ATOS. And it persistently denied there was a link between its policy of sanctions and throwing the disabled off their benefits through highly contrived and falsified test results and the suicides of their victims. They even denied it when the evidence was there for all to see in suicide notes left by those victims, in which they blamed DWP polices.

Now Mike reports that yesterday the DWP made a series of pledges, promising that it would learn from the NAO’s report and put in place measures to investigate ‘customer’ experiences and improve procedures, as well as internal communications so that staff are aware of the processes for reporting a suicide.

But Mike states that he has absolutely no faith in all this, as we’ve heard it all before.

And we have. The DWP under the Tories won’t do anything. It will carry on killing people, because the Tories want it to. And every time it gets caught out, it will repeat the same mantra about learning lessons and putting in place procedures to stop it all happening again. Until the next death that can’t be blithely waved away, when it will trot out these same smooth lies.

The Labour manifesto was right. The DWP needs to broken up, its current managers sacked, and the system returned to the structure and ethos of the former Department of Health and Social Security.  

Don’t believe DWP pledge to learn from cases linked to suicide – we’ve heard it all before

‘I’ Newspaper: Thatcher Wanted to Abolished Welfare State and NHS Even After Cabinet ‘Riot’

November 27, 2016

The I newspaper on Friday (25th November 2016) carried a report that recently released cabinet papers reveal that Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe continued to plan for the abolition of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS even after the rest of the cabinet violently and vehemently rejected her plans. Here’s what the paper wrote

Thatcher’s plan to abolish the welfare state outraged MPs

The Prime Minister tried to advance incendiary proposals despite uproar in Cabinet. By Cahal Milmo.

Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe secretly sought to breathe new life into incendiary plans to dismantle the welfare state even after they had been defeated in a cabinet “riot”, newly released files show.

Shortly after she came to power in 1979, Mrs Thatcher instructed a Whitehall think-tank to put forward proposals on how to shake up long-term public spending based on the free market principles she spent her 11 years in office seeking to apply.

But what the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) put forward in 1982 was the most radical and vexing blueprint of the Thatcher era, including a call for the end of the NHS by scrapping free universal healthcare, introducing compulsory charges for schooling and sweeping defence cuts.

The proposals proved far too militant for the “wets” in Mrs Thatcher’s frontbench team and were shouted down at a meeting in September that year which Nigel Lawson, the then Energy Secretary, later described in his memoirs as “the nearest thing to a Cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.”

A chastened Mrs Thatcher, who later claimed she had been “horrified” at the CPRS document, responded to the leak of a watered-down version of the paper by using her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1982 to insist that the NHS is “safe with us”.

But Treasury documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that the Iron Lady and her first Chancellor did not let the project drop and planned behind the scenes to “soften up” the ministers in charge of the main departments targeted by the CPRS.

In November 1982, a memo was sent informing Sir Geoffrey that Mrs Thatcher had set up meetings with her Health Secretary, Norman Fowler, Education Secretary Keith Joseph and Defence Secretary John Nott. The memo said: “This series of meetings is designed to soften up the three big spenders. Without their support the operation will not work.”

The document details a political pincer movement between No 10 and the Treasury with Sir Geoffrey asked to ensure that no department’s funding was ring-fenced – although there was recognition that the Prime Minister’s public position on the NHS made that difficult. It said: “Your main aim, I suggest, should be to ensure that no sacred cows are prematurely identified. Given the Prime Minister’s concern about the NHS, this may be difficult.”

The files suggest the ploy met immediate opposition. A later Treasury memo said: “DHSS [Department of Health and Social Security] officials say there is no chance that Mr Fowler would agree to further study of this idea. I imagine that in the circumstances, and especially given the Prime Minister’s speech at Brighton, it is difficult to press them.”

The documents go on to reveal that Sir Geoffrey had a certain ambivalence towards how the Thatcherite project should proceed.

When the Adam Smith Institute came forward with a project to set out a plan for radical Whitehall restructuring to be enacted after the 1983 general election, Sir Geoffrey accepted the concerns of his political adviser that the scheme would fail.

Sir Geoffrey Wrote: “Every proposal will be seized on and hung round our neck. I see v great harm.” (p. 16).

This gives the lie to Thatcher’s claim in her autobiography that when she reviewed the NHS, she found it to be basically found, and only felt that it should have given more space to private industry. It also shows that Leon Brittan was also lying in his autobiography when he also claimed that the Labour party had lied about the Tories planning to abolish the NHS. They had considered it in 1983, and again considered it four years later in 1987.

As for the cabinet rebels who ‘rioted’ against Thatcher’s scheme, from what I’ve read they were motivated not from principle but from the realisation that if she tried to carry out her plans, they’d all be out of a job come the next election.

This did not stop the Tories carrying on the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Thatcher carried on chipping away at it. So did John Major, and it was kicked into a higher gear by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And now David Cameron and his wretched successor, Theresa May, have nearly completed the job.

I also like to know who the members of the CPRS were, who recommended the complete dismantlement of the welfare state. At the moment, ideological thugs like them hide behind their extremely low profiles. If the politicians, who’ve embraced their ideas are attacked on lose their seats, these people are nevertheless safe, in that they slink off and get another seat at the governmental table somewhere else. Mike on his blog pointed out how Wasserman, one of the architects behind Thatcher’s plan to privatise the NHS, was also one of the official invited back to advise Cameron on how to ‘reform’ it, in other words, privatise more of it.

It’s about time the shadowy figures behind these ideas were named and shamed, as well as the foul politicos who back them.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.