Posts Tagged ‘Ian Birrell’

‘I’ Newspaper: Tories Selling Off Mental Health care to Americans

December 3, 2019

And it’s a disaster.

This is another story from yesterday’s I, this time written by Ian Birrell. It’s titled ‘NHYS for sale? Our mental health services are’ with the subtitle ‘Fatcat US operators already have their claws into our psychiatric services’. It’s a comprehensive discussion how big American private medical companies are acquiring British healthcare companies and NHS contracts, and how patients are suffering through the deplorably bad care they provide.

Birrell begins with Jeremy Corbyn’s statement last week that the documents of the negotiations between Trump and Johnson showed that the NHS were being sold off to private American companies. Birrell denied this, and instead stated that not even Boris would dare sell off the NHS went it is so highly valued by the British public. He then moved on to the strenuous denials by the Tories that they were planning any such thing, before attacking them in turn as lies when it came to mental health. He wrote

Yet hang on a second. One key slice of the NHS is already lying in a distressed state on the operating table, where it has been chopped up for profit-hungry private firms. And giant US health corporations, along with hedge funds and private equity firms, are already here and bleeding dry this profitable of the corner of the NHS – with often disastrous consequences for some of our most desperate patients. Sadly, no one seems to care much since it is “only” the mental health sector – for so long the neglected Cinderella service.

Yet in recent years a small cluster of fatcats have got their claws into Britain’s psychiatric services, exploiting the struggles of the health service to cope with surging demand. These operators have grabbed nearly £2bn of business, providing almost one quarter of NHS mental health beds and soaking up close to half the total spend on child and adolescent mental health services.

This means they own many NHS-funded units holding people, such as teenage girls who self-harm and adults with suicidal thoughts, along with hundreds of people with autism and learning disabilities scandalously locked up due to lack of support in their local communities. These firms benefit as overloaded mental health services and risk-averse officials send more and more troubled citizens into secure units. It is a lucrative business when it costs up to £730,000 per patient a year. Bosses can pocket millions – but many frontline workers earn little more than minimum wage and the use of agency staff is routine, despite the need to develop patient relationships.

Acadia, a Tennessee-based health giant, spent £1.3bn buying the Priory Group and now boasts of earning more than £188m in just three months from British public services. “Demand for independent-sector beds has grown significantly as a result of the NHS reducing its bed capacity and increasing hospitalisation rates,” said its last annual report.

Operating profits at Cygnet, owned by another huge US firm, have surged to £45.2m due to deals with 228 NHS purchasing bodies after it bought a rival group last year. Another outfit called Elysium, backed by private equity through a Luxembourg firm, only launched three years ago, but is already earning revenues of £62.2m from at least 55 units.

But a study by the Rightful Lives campaign group has found these three firms alone own 13 of the 16 mental health settings judged “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission watchdog, since it found some teeth after the furore over abusive detention of people with autism and learning disabilities exploded a year ago. Cygnet runs eight of these “inadequate” units, although its US boss is reportedly the richest chief executive in the hospital industry, who collected more than £39m in one year from pay, bonuses and stock. Priory and Cygnet also owned hospitals exposed by disturbing undercover television documentaries over the past year.

I have heard a stream of horror stories from despairing families and former patients involving solitary confinement, forcible injections, abuse and overuse of restraint, during investigations into this area. Some were detained in NHS psychiatric units. But most involve privately run units. People such as Megan, who was sectioned for self-harm, suicidal thoughts and later found to be suffering post-traumatic stress from childhood traumas. She was in four clinics – but in one run by the Priory, aged just 16, she was even held stark naked for one month to prevent self-harm until her parents delivered a “safe suit”. “It was the most degrading time of my life,” she told me. The firm was fined £300,000 earlier this year for failings after the suicide of a 14-year-old girl at the same unit.

Despite the ample demonstration that private healthcare doesn’t work and is just simple profiteering, Birrell is at pains to say that he has nothing against the involvement of the private sector in state healthcare. He just wants it to be better regulated. He ends his piece with these two paragraphs

Unlike many voters, I have no problems with private providers in healthcare if the service remains free at the point of use, especially after seeing their role in European systems with superior patient outcomes to our own health service. But seeing these mental-health firms has shaken my faith.

Clearly all private operators need to be effectively regulated, especially when providing sensitive frontline services. Sadly, it seems our politicians on all sides prefer to posture over whether the NHS is really for sale to “mega-corporations” while ignoring those that have already arrived and are pocketing vast sums while offering inadequate services to so many despairing citizens. Once again, we see how little Westminster really cares.

Actually, I think these paragraphs say much about the I and the political ‘centrism’ it supports. The NHS has been privatised piecemeal since the days of Thatcher, who was prevented from privatising it outright by a cabinet revolt. Blair’s government did much to hand it over to private firms, though much had already been done in this direction by the Private Finance Initiative introduced by the Tories and Peter Lilley. The Conservatives haven’t reversed the policy of privatisation, and are instead ramping it up even further.

The result is massively poor performance. Jacky Davis and Ray Tallis argue very strongly in their book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS-SOS, that on their own private healthcare can’t compete with state. The service provided will always be inferior, as the profit-motive doesn’t work when it comes to the long-term sick or those with acute conditions. Private hospitals have fewer beds than state hospitals. And those who cannot afford healthcare are simply left to sicken and die. A few years ago the private healthcare system in America nearly collapsed. It’s why the American healthcare giants are so keen to acquire pieces of ours.

Yes, continental healthcare which often does involve the private sector can perform better than ours. But that’s because our National Health Service has always received comparatively less funding than theirs. It’s been the case, sadly, since the NHS was set up. On the other hand, our healthcare results are far, far better than Americas and were comparable to those on the continent. Until the Tories took over, and decided to cut things back and privatise even more.

But Birrell cannot criticise private medicine, because privatisation is still part of ‘Centrist’ political dogma. Moreover, the press is now owned by immensely rich men, often with commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. As a result, the supposedly liberal I and Guardian continue to flog Centrist economics even though these are so well-past their sale-by date that they’ve been dubbed ‘zombie economics’.

As for Corbyn, I believe very strong that rather than playing political football with the issue of NHS privatisation, he’s very aware of what’s going on and how it is failing Britain’s sick and ill. That’s why he wants to end it and renationalise the NHS. Birrell tries desperately to avoid that conclusion, because like all Centrists he wants the NHS privatisation to continue thanks to the Thatcherite dogma he’s imbibed and promotes.

But Thatcherism has had its day. It is bringing nothing but misery, deprivation and death. It’s time the Tories were out, Jeremy Corbyn was in, and the NHS renationalised. 

Now!

Tony Greenstein on Simon Kelner, Ian Birrell and the ‘I’s’ Anti-Semitism Smears of Corbyn

September 15, 2018

Last month, on the 27th August 2018, Tony Greenstein posted a piece on his blog criticizing the I newspaper for its anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. The newspaper had published articles by two of its columnists, Simon Kelner and Ian Birrell. In one of them, Kelner attacked Labour for being anti-Semitic because it hadn’t then adopted the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism in its entirety. The other article, written by Birrell, declared that Corbyn was ‘unfit for office’ because of his presence at the anti-Zionist meeting where Hajo Meyer made his speech comparing Israel to the Nazis. Which in actual fact, wasn’t anti-Semitic.

Birrell, apart from writing for the Groaniad, Independent and the Heil, used to be a speechwriter for ‘Dodgy’ David Cameron. Greenstein describes his article as just one long ad hominem. As for Kelner, he tried to justify his recommendation of the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism by claiming that the Jewish community supported it, it was the commonly held definition, and that it seemed to him, a Jew, to be an uncontroversial document.

Greenstein points out in his article that the Jewish community has never spoken with a single, monolithic voice, that it has also been accepted by genuine anti-Semites like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Michal Kaminski and the anti-Semitic Law and Justice Party of Poland.

He also points out that the definition has also been attacked by the Director of the Sears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Professor David Feldman, Hugh Tomlinson, QC, and the retired appeals court judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, who is himself Jewish.

Greenstein was so outraged by these articles, that he wrote several messages of protest to the I’s editor, Oliver Duff. But surprise, surprise!, he didn’t get an answer.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2018/08/duff-by-name-and-duff-by-nature-editor.html

Greenstein states that he has always found Kelner a superficial writer. I seem to remember that way back in the 1990s he regularly used to appear in Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column under the monicker, Simon ‘Pussy’ Kelner. No explanation was given for this soubriquet, but I do wonder whether it was because of a misogynist remark he may have made. Or perhaps it’s simply because he liked cats.

Regardless of this, his argument for demanding Labour adopts the I.H.R.A. definition simply boiled down to ‘All Jews demand it, and I’m Jewish, so I know what’s anti-Semitic’. It’s an easy argument to refute as not all Jews by any means demanded, being a member of a particular ethnic group does not necessarily give someone a privileged insight into what is or isn’t a racist slur or action against them.

It’s also extremely hypocritical for the Tories to use that argument. I can remember when the McPherson rules were first proposed, that a crime should be categorized as racist if the victim, a member of an ethnic minority, said it, the Tory papers went berserk. The Mail published articles attacking the very notion, fearing that White Brits would be smeared as racists simply on the say-so of Blacks and Asians.

In fact, as Mike has repeatedly pointed out in his article, the McPherson rules actually say no such thing. They state that if the victim believes they were racially abused or assaulted, then that is how it should be registered by the police. But the crime still has to be investigated the usual way, and it still needs to be shown that the crime was racially motivated.

In the case of the Tories’, Blairites’ and lamestream media’s attacks on Corbyn and the Labour party for anti-Semitism, absolutely none of this appears to have been done. And indeed, their is active resistance to it being done. You’re angrily smeared as an anti-Semite by the baying Zionist mob if you even dare ask for proof, as Pete Willetts did.

Although Greenstein published his article about three weeks ago, it’s still very relevant because Kelner was riding the same hobby horse again in his column this week. It’s headline proclaimed that he didn’t know he was a Jew, and was accompanied by a picture of an angry crowd all bearing placards accusing Corbyn of anti-Semitism. I didn’t bother reading on. I don’t think I needed to. The headline and photo said it all. And no doubt Kelner will continue going on saying the same smears and spurious arguments for as long as the Tories believe Labour’s a threat.

Which I hope will be a very long time indeed. I look forward to Corbyn, the most anti-racist politico, getting into No. 10 to the squawking fury of Kelner, Birrell, Duff and their readers. Assuming that they still have any by then.