Posts Tagged ‘Patricia Hewitt’

Fabian Pamphlet From the 1980s: What Women Want are Left-Wing Policies

February 3, 2018

For a very brief period in the 1980s I was a member of the Fabian Society. The other day I managed to dig out of my collection of old Fabian pamphlets one by Patricia Hewitt and Deborah Mattinson, entitled Women’s Votes: the Key to Winning, published in 1989.

I haven’t read it yet, but the first page, in the introduction, astonished me by completely challenging the received wisdom about women’s voting preferences. As Hewitt and Mattinson point out, women have been considered far more Conservative politically than men. But at the last general election (1987), they supported the Labour party and left-wing policies just as much as men. The Introduction runs

The Labour Party needs women’s votes in order to win the next election. The evidence suggests that these votes can be won but the Party must persuade women that it will not only stand by it values but also carry out its policies when in government.

Until quite recently, it was accepted political wisdom tht women were more conservative than men. Within the labour movement, women voters were widely blamed for electing Mrs Thatcher and it was believed that a future Labour victory would depend more on men than on women.

Before the 1987 general election, the Conservatives generally did better amongst women than amongst men. The reverse was true for Labour. There was a ‘gender gap’, and it worked in the Tories’ favour.

That has now changed. In 1987 Labour closed the gender gap for the first time. There is good evidence for believing that, in future, Labour will do better amongst women voters than amongst men.

We start by looking at the 1987 and 1983 voting patterns to analyse Labour’s relative strength amongst women and men, and amongst different groups of women. We then look in more detail at women’s and men’s values and attitudes, drawing on recent opinion polling and qualitative research, including a series of small discussion groups undertaken especially for the Fabian Society and reported in this pamphlet.

Next we examine attitudes to issues and suggest the policy areas on which Labour should concentrate, before turning to proposals for how Labour can become more representative of women. Finally, we briefly consider unplublished and published material from Australia and the USA, where the Australian Labor Party and the American Democrats are reaching similar conclusions to our own.

The evidence strongly suggests that women voters are more likely to share and respond to Labour’s values than men. They are more likely to vote for an ‘enabling’ state which intervenes to protect the environment, regulate business and industry, redistribute income and wealth, provide a high level of social and welfare services, and promote greater equality between women and men. Increasingly, women are Labour’s natural constituency. (Emphasis mine.)

This bears out the ideology behind much of the right-wing, Conservative, and Libertarian misogyny in the US. The Libertarians, right-wing Republicans like Anne Coulter, and the Fascists in the Alt-Right, would like to deprive women of the vote partly because they see them as more left-wing than men, and more willing to expand the power of the state. Which challenges their notion of freedom under classical liberal economics, in which the ideal state is that of the mid-19th century.

It also shows why millions of women did not vote for Killary. For all Clinton’s promotion of herself as a feminist representing women, she signally did not. She was a bog-standard, corporatist politician and foreign policy hawk. Her gender made absolutely no difference whatsoever to the policies she promoted and espoused. She was far too right-wing for many American women, who voted with their feet. And they did so not because they were told to by their husbands and boyfriends, as Killary later claimed, or because of misogyny by nonexistent ‘Bernie Bros’.

The same goes for the female Blairites in the Labour party. They’re simply a continuation of Blair’s pro-corporate, neoliberal programme, which was basically just reheated Thatcherism with sickly grin. The comments by some of these female faux ‘moderates’ that they will be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories is not going to impress ordinary working women, already doing the worst paid jobs and, like working men, suffering from precarious unemployment conditions.

And this shows how desperate and threadbare the corporate, mainstream media has been in pushing the narrative that the Labour party under Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the Democrats in America, are misogynists. Because they aren’t, and the neoliberal entryists know it. Hence too the portrayal by some of these corporatist women to draw a difference between themselves, representing the glorious middle-class, pro-woman future, and male-dominated, working class Old Labour.

The truth is, women seem to be more left-wing than corporatist, neoliberal shills like Hillary Clinton, Angela Eagle and the rest of the post-Blair faction in the Labour party. And its frightening them, and the rest of the Right-wing establishment. And so we’re left with stupid lies about misogyny and intimidation from them and the corporate media.

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Private Eye from 1995 on Private Health Firms in the NHS and Computer Chaos

April 13, 2015

Private Eye in their edition for Friday, 6th October 1995 also published another piece by Paul Foot in his ‘Footnotes’ column about a consortium of drug companies pushing for the privatisation of the NHS under the chairmanship of Sir Duncan Nichol, the director of BUPA, the private health insurer. Nichol was also head of the NHS when £20 million was wasted on a failed computer project, in which they were advised by Anderson Consulting.

Put Another Nichol In

So crass, discursive, vacillating and shoddily presented was the first report of Health Care 2000 that even the health secretary Stephen Dorrell attacked it.

Health Care 2000 was set up in 1993 by Britain’s 30 top drug companies “to encourage the development of partnership and programmes with others involved in health care”. It report suggests that private money should be encouraged into the National Health Service by allowing people to buy better NHS treatment – for instance by paying a fee for more convenient appointment times to avoid all those nasty hours with the plebs in the doctors’ waiting rooms. The only certain result of this would be that more money would be spent on drugs.

The chair of the committee which produced the report is Sir Duncan Nichol, who is described as director of the health service management unit at Manchester University. Shyly, the report does not boast of Sir Duncan’s other important job: as a director of BUPA, the private health insurance group.

From 1989 to 1993 Sir Duncan was also head of the National Health Service, of course, and in 1993 he gave evidence to the Commons public accounts committee about an interesting example of private money in the National Health Service: the waste of at least £20 million of NHS money on a disgraceful computer cock-up in t6he Wessex region. At the centre of the cock-up was a giant (and disastrous) IBM computer, recommended by a consultant to the regional health authority who, by astonishing coincidence, sat on the board of IBM (when this was discovered, the IBM man was “asked to leave” and given a pay-off of £111,940).

Asked by a Tory MP if the Wessex saga was “a litany of slapdash, improper and quite unacceptable intromissions with public funds”, Nichol replied: “There is no doubt that that would be an appropriate description.” He also agreed that between 1987 and 1990 the statutory auditor had sent five reports to Nichol’s NHS management6 executive outlining “improprieties” in Wessex. Asked what he had done about them, Nichol insisted his department had “doggedly pursued a whole series of points about the management and mismanagement of this project”. But alas, he confessed, all that dogged pursuit turned out to be “a hopeless chase”.

Nichol was asked about the role of Andersen Consulting, a firm which had set out to advise the regional health authority on which computer firm to hire, and ended up getting the contract itself. An auditor reported: “Although several officers took exception at the time to the apparent conflict of interest, no remedial action was taken.” Nichol could not explain convincingly why he and his executive had done nothing about it. Soon after this outstanding performance, Mr Nichol was knighted.

Sir Duncan came across Andersen again in a more congenial atmosphere during his recent Health Care 2000 Inquiry. His deputy on the committee was Patricia Hewitt, director of research at Andersen Consulting. She became famous as policy coordinator to Neil Kinnock during his days as leader of the Labour Party when he campaigned with tremendous vigour against any dilution by private money of the National Health Service. She joined Andersen’s last year.

I’ve already blogged about how Patricia Hewitt became part of the New Labour project to destroy anything resembling Socialism in the Labour party. What’s interesting is the evidence from this article how far back the Tory plans to part privatise the NHS are. The idea that people should have to pay for extra NHS services appeared last year with the recommendation by the Labour, Lord Warner, that the NHS should start making charges for its services.

As for Andersen Consulting, they were perpetually in Private Eye because of repeated bungling and conflicts of interest. The effective destruction of the Benefits Agency and Inland Revenue was on their recommendations. Following the global recession created partly by the sub-prime mortgages fiasco, Andersen decided that they could only clean up their act by changing their name. Well, this shows how deeply the corruption, venality and incompetence went. They should never have been allowed anywhere near government.

From 2007: Suppressed Government Report into Failures of PFI

February 1, 2015

One of the first elements in the gradual privatisation of the NHS was the Private Finance Initiative. Under it, private companies were awarded contracts for the construction and maintenance of the hospitals they built partly through private finance. it was a way of keeping the cost of hospital construction and maintenance off the government books. The downside was that the costs, although hidden, were still massive, meaning that the public was saddled with exorbitant costs for many years, indeed decades to come. Furthermore, the financial risks were never spread evenly. If a private consortium ran into trouble and could no longer make a profit from the deal, it was left to the taxpayer to bail them out.

In their issue for the 21st June – 8th July 2007, Private Eye carried this story about a government report that had been suppressed after it severely criticised the Private Finance Initiative for its numerous and disastrously expenses failures.

The Hospital Report They Didn’t Want You To Read
PFI, the Untold Story

A damning report on hospitals built under the private finance initiative, prepared by the National Audit Office (NAO) but never published or show to Parliament, has been obtained by Private Eye under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2005 the NAO announced that it was looking into the record of PFI hospitals, but a year ago mysteriously cancelled the study – without revealing that it had already written a hugely detailed 90-page report on the subject. The move came just weeks after Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt had announced a review of the £12bn worth of hospital PFI deals then in the pipeline, in the face of mounting evidence that PFI was unaffordable and unworkable with other Labour health reforms. The last thing she needed was a critical report on the record of the PFI hospitals already up and running.

The NAO insists it was not pressured into pulling the report, entitled The Operational Record of the First Wave of PFI Hospitals, though it refuses to disclose any details of its discussions with the Department of Health on the subject. It claims the “evidence collected was too mixed and not sufficiently conclusive to justify a report to parliament”. Really? Eye readers (and MPs) are invited to study the principal findings and judge for themselves.

The ‘Risk’ Factor

In all 17 hospitals whose costs were looked at, PFI was judged to be a few pounds cheaper when compared to how much it would have cost to build or refurbish the hospital under conventional procurement. But at 15 hospitals this was only after a spurious financial “risk factor” had been applied to the public sector alternative. The factor varied from 1 percent to 22 percent of the cost but was always just enough to make PFI look cheaper. The NAO overlooks the obvious fiddling and swallows the alleged “similarity of costs” without question.

Not So Grand Designs

A comparison of design quality found the PFI hospitals overall, slightly worse than non-PFI ones. On five out of six criteria they were below “minimum acceptable standard” and especially pisspoor architecturally. Although the non-PFI ones used for comparison were mostly 20 to 30 years older and much work has been done on improving hospital building standards in the meantime, this seems to have passed the PFI industry by.

Bed-Hopping Mad

Seventy percent of the PFI hospitals had fewer beds than the facilities they replaced, but all save one had higher rates of occupancy. Indeed, in 70 percent of cases the PFI bed occupancy rate was higher than the officially recommended maximum of 85 percent. Above this figure peak admissions are more difficult to handle, men and women can’t always be separated and infection control is compromised.

The cause of the problem, the NAO found, was that “greater efficiency designed to increase patient throughput … has not yet been fully achieved.” In other words, such is the expense of PFI that in order to produce a remotely affordable deal, unrealistic assumptions about needing fewer beds were made (with the help of financial consultants anxious to get the deal through and secure their success fees).

Three of the PFI hospitals have already had to build extra facilities as a result, putting millions more on the cost of their deals every year. Clinicians are understandably miffed: two thirds said that “affordability constraints” had led to “design compromise”, including at University Hospital Durham where floor area had to be reduced, leading to “shortage of space … and a lack of ventilation”.

Feeling the Heat

“One particular problem”, the auditors noted, “is summer overheating”. PFI hospitals fall well below minimum standards. “At one PFI hospital the contract manager had recently recorded temperatures of over 40 degrees C in the wards during the height of summer,” said the auditors. As the whole premise of PFI and the dodgy value for money calculations is the transfer of risk, solving this problem might be thought to be down to the PFI company. But no. When the auditors visited “it had not been agreed who would bear the cost”.

Cleaning Up

Among the most alarming findings was that “the cost of cleaning PFI hospitals is higher than in non-PFI hospitals and the quality of service is lower”. Not exactly surprising, but with clear evidence that poor hygiene standards increase the incidence of MRSA, C. difficile and other deadly super bugs – exactly the sort of finding Hewitt would not have wanted splashed across the papers last year.

The problem isn’t just cost-cutting by the PFI companies and the cleaning firms they employ: the report noted that “only a fifth of ward managers at PFI hospitals … had sufficient powers of direction over cleaners”. And in the bureaucratic nightmare of PFI, doing something about it isn’t easy either because improved standards “are not necessarily reflected in the service specification”, ie contract.

Making improvements is “likely to require the requesting of a service variation”. Great news for lawyers, not so comforting for patients.

Failure? Fine By Us

When things go wrong it’s invariably the hospital, not the PFI company, that suffers. Two thirds of hospital managers felt that they couldn’t impose sufficient financial penalties on the companies to motivate the PFI company to do its job.

And that’s if difficulties are reported in the first place. Many problems go unpunished as busy nurses have better things to do than hang on the phone to a remote help-desk. “They would often therefore either ignore the failure or deal with it themselves,” say the auditors, with the result that only 30 percent of trusts report “most” service failures. Even if they do, the PFI companies determine how much to fine themselves: “The data for calculating deductions is usually generated by the helpdesk and is therefore the responsibility of the PFI contractor.”

When whole areas of PFI hospitals become unavailable most trusts think the payments they can withhold aren’t enough to make the PFI company return the building to use quickly. In one case, a water leak shut an operating theatre for two days at a loss of 33 operations and a cost to the trust of £24,750. The PFI company was docked less than £5,000.

Red Tape, Red Faces

Anyone who thinks the public sector is tied up in red tape should look at what happens when a PFI hospital needs the private company it’s relying on to make any changes.

If it needs a new noticeboard, say, it can’t just ask a handyman to put one up. It has to get a quote for “supply and fit and life cycle maintenance” (£860 for five of them from one PFI company, since you ask). The NAO report leaves a large space for a “flow diagram of the process for making a minor change”. Unsurprisingly clinicians reported infuriating delays. And it’s not cheap: at Norfolk and Norwich 1,600 “minor “works” (putting up a shelf, changing a plug, etc) came in at £1.2m – £750 a throw. For any bigger change, like altering the use of a room, the process is more cumbersome still. And if it costs more than £5,000, the lawyers and even bankers have to be pulled in as their “risk profile” might be affected.

As a trust manager from Durham put it: “It is not a competitive market, the mark-up by the contractor and the [PFI company] increase the costs, and there is not the incentive for them to come up with affordable solutions.

And the Good News Is …

It’s not all bad news. On the odd incidental like “security” PFI hospitals were judged better. And the report repeats the Treasury’s favoured view of PFI: “The first wave of PFI hospitals were very largely delivered to time and budget.”
Yet again, however, this conclusion is based on the cost of the hospitals once the contract was signed, after which it can’t go up. If the prices when the deals were given the go-ahead were considered, a more appropriate comparison, the auditors would have seen increases of between 40 percent and 230 percent as huge price increases emerged during contract negotiations.

Despite the evidence of innumerable surveys, reviews, field visits to hospitals, independently commissioned technical evaluations, questionnaires and focus groups, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Parliament, apparently, doesn’t need to know about the bed shortages, substandard buildings, poor cleaning, labyrinthine bureaucracy and extra costs that come with PFI.

Patricia Hewitt’s own review of hospital PFI deals duly concluded that, subject to some trimming here and there, they could go ahead. Nobody was able to point to damning NAO findings that PFI is about as useful in a hospital as a surgeon with the shakes.

Before the last election, Osborne stated that he would end PFI once the Tories got in power. This is one of the promises that the Tory party has broken. Not only has not ended PFI, he actually increased it and authorised more projects. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as PFI was originally a Tory idea, put forward by Peter Lilley as a way of opening up the NHS to private enterprise.

It needs to be closed down, and the Tories removed from office before they can privatise anymore of the NHS.

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.

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.

Vox Political on Private Healthcare Overcharging the NHS

January 27, 2015

Rapacious Quack

18th Century Satirical Print: The Rapacious Quack. It depicts a poor family at the mercy of a doctor, who has taken away a flitch of bacon in lieu of unpaid fees. Its caption reads
‘The Rapacious Quack quite vext to find,
His patient poor, and so forsaken
A thought soon sprung up in his mind
To take away a piece of bacon.’
Which just about describes the grasping attitude of the private healthcare firms mentioned in the report.

Earlier this evening I blogged a piece on Mike’s story over at Vox Political on Ed Miliband’s promise to rebuild and strengthen the NHS. The piece is Will voters support Labour’s vision for the NHS? and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/27/will-voters-support-labours-vision-for-the-nhs/. It offers hope for an NHS decimated by the Tories, but also by Blair and Brown.

Mike also wonders in the piece whether Alan Milburn, Blair’s former health secretary, is really a member of the Labour party, or a Tory, who has worked his way into Labour to undermine it. He isn’t the only one. A few weeks ago, Johnny Void pointed out how one of the authors of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s report suggesting the establishment of a national network of food banks was Frank Field, and made the same comments about him. Field is notorious for recommending further cuts to the welfare state to encourage unemployed hoi polloi to find work. And it isn’t only his critics, who have suggested he should join the Tories. He also has admirers within that party, who’ve actually made the invitation. The politically Conservative Cranmer blog actually invited Field to cross the floor and join the Tories.

And the same comments could have been made about much of the New Labour leadership. Remember the computer programme back in the 1990s that made anagrams from politicians’ names, supposedly revealing their real character? Michael Portillo was ‘a cool, limp Hitler’. Blair came out as ‘I am Tory Plan B’. Lobster compared Blair to Ted Heath. Both were men leading the wrong parties. Giles Brandreth, who served on John Major’s Tory cabinet in the 1990s, on Have I Got News For You described the Blairs, both Tony and Cherie, as natural Tories. They were, and they similarly pursued a policy of privatising the NHS piecemeal.

In the first few years of this century Patricia Hewitt wanted to sell of the £64bn commissioning and supply arm of the NHS, but ended up having to reject the plan, claiming it was mistaken. She therefore just privatised hospital management. And one of the brilliant ideas of Blair’s administration was the inclusion of private healthcare companies to pick up work that could not be done by an overstretched NHS. Who was the brains behind this, ahem, operation?

Alan Milburn.

And in 2009 Private Eye carried a story about an independent report that concluded the private healthcare providers were overcharging the NHS, including billing for work they did not carry out. The article was in their edition for the 15th – 30th May. Here it is.

NHS Plc.
ISTCs: A Crying Sham

Another crumbling New Labour initiative, independent sector treatment centres (ISTCs) for NHS operations, has ben exposed as a shambolic waste of money.

ISTCs were supposed to provide low-cost operations to an overstretched NHS. But the have long been suspected of creaming off the most lucrative ones under favourable contracts without providing the quality to be found in the NHS.

A 2006 parliamentary report questioned their value for money and asked the National Audit Office to look into it. Several billions of pounds of public money were at stake, but the audit body has oddly shied away from the subject despite reportedly expressing some concern over the ISTCs’ performance and £100m+ procurement costs 18 months ago.

Now academics Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood at Edinburgh University have obtained the contract for one ISTC under Scottish freedom of information laws (contracts in England remain confidential). This shows that the NHS in Tayside paid an ISTC run by Amicus Healthcare – a joint venture of private equity firm Apax and South Africa’s Netcare – for 90 percent of referrals even though the centre only performed 32 percent of them. The academics estimate that Tayside’s overpayments could be dwarfed by those across England, where the NHS could have been stung by up to £927m for operations not performed.

The £5bn ISTC programme was pushed through by the Department of Health’s commercial directorate, set up in 2003 by the then health secretary, Alan Milburn, now earning £30k a year from the private equity firm Bridgepoint that owns ISTCs through Alliance Medical. The directorate was run by American Ken Anderson (since decamped to Swiss bank UBS’s private health investments) and was exposed by the Eye two years ago as home to 220 consultants on an average £238k a year, much channelled through tax-efficient service companies. It has since been quietly disbanded without ever having faced the scrutiny it warranted.

This effectively explains why Milburn was so keen to pour scorn on Miliband’s plans for the NHS: he’s working for a private equity firm that will lose work in that area if Miliband starts to take seriously the NHS’ commitment to providing free state medicine.

It also shows how better governed Scotland is than England. The two academics are able to get details like this through the Scots freedom of information act, which is denied to citizens south of the Border.

As for Amicus Healthcare, I remember Amicus as the American rival to Hammer films way back in the 1970s. Although American, they used much of the same actors and production staff. Sadly, Hammer and Amicus passed away, though the horror continues under the Amicus name.

Private Eye in 2006 on the Closure of Health Services due to Privatisation in Redditch

September 23, 2013

Mike in the last post I’ve reblogged from his site has commented that the real problem behind Labour’s welfare policy is Unum. It is this criminal US insurance company that is sponsoring Anne Maguire’s invitation-only conference on welfare policy. The company has already sponsored similar events by Labour’s rivals, the Libdems and Conservatives. The fact that the Labour party is offering a platform to them indicates that its welfare policies differ little from those of the Coalition, despite its promises to sack Atos.

The privatisation of the NHS began under the Conservatives, but was continued and expanded under New Labour as part of Blair’s ‘Third Way’. In their issue for the 9th to 22nd June 2006, Private Eye reported how the costs of the Private Finance Initiative was forcing the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch to consider closing its maternity, paediatric and gynaecology units. Furthermore, there was evidence to suggest that the Primary Care Trust was referring orthopaedic patients not to the Alexandra Hospital, but to a private hospital in Kidderminster. The article runs

‘how NHS Privatisation Works

Double Whammy

Question: Why can’t the Alexandra hospital in Redditch do aaything to prevent the threatened closure of its maternity, paediatric and gynaecology units?

Answer: Because it is caught between a rock and a hard place in New Labour’s privatisation of the NHS and is powerless to act.

One of eight hospitals in the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, the Alex receives payments from its local Primary Care Trust (PCT) for treating the patients the PCT refers to it. However, the two trusts on which they Alex depends are both having to pay such a high price for privatisation initiatives elsewhere that through no fault of its own, deep cuts are now threatened at the NHS hospital.

The first problem for the Alex is that the Worcestershire Acute Hospital Trust is saddled with a £30 m deficit which, campaigners claim, is largely due to the crazy sums it has had to pay for a PFI hospital in Worcester (See Eyes passim). Given the 30 m black hole, and the fact that hospital managers cannot cut their payments to their PFI contractors in Worcester (Catalyst Healthcare: a consortium of Bovis, Sodexho and Bank of Scotland), they are looking for savings elsewhere in the NHS and considering a plan to cut 720 jobs, which includes closing maternity and related services at the Alex.

Ironically, these NHS cuts at the Alex in Redditch might actually mean more money being paid to the PFI contractors in Worcester. For under the PFI deal, if more than 90 per cent of the beds at the Worcester hospital are occupied at any one time, the hospital trust must make extra payments to the consortium. So, if Redditch women continue to have babies after their local maternity unit is closed, and if they then travel to Worcester to give birth, they will fill beds at the PFI hospital and trigger extra payments to the private sector. Brilliant!

Meanwhile the Eye has seen documents suggesting that managers at the Alex believe their local Primary Care Trust is diverting orthopaedic patients away from the Alex to a private unit in Kidderminster. The PCT, it turns out, has a block contract with a private Independent Sector Treatment Centre (ISTC) run by Canadian firm Inter Health; and it has to pay for a certain number of operations at the ISTC each year whether the private firm carries out the work or not.

Last year the PCT tried to negotiate away a £193,000 overspend with Inter Health because of “under utilisation”; and the trust’s latest Financial Risk Plan warns that up to £1m could be lost this year unless it restricts NHS activity while “maximising use of ISTC capacity”. So yet more money will be diverted away from hospitals like the Alex.

The internal document from senior staff at the Alex claims: “the local PCT are advising a lot of patients that the waiting time is longer than it actually is at the Alex and therefore would they like to travel to the Independent Treatment Centre at Kidderminster.”

The PCT denied to the Eye that it was trying to force patients to go private in Kidderminster, claiming that patients and doctors made their own decisions based on “informed choice”. Yeah, right.

A local campaign to “Save the Alex” has been launched, but New Labour ministers remain committed to both the PFI and ISTC schemes. Rather than provoke cuts, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt claimed they would”build capacity” in the NHS. Some mistake, surely?’

This story more or less illustrates everything that’s wrong with the Private Finance Initiatives and the gradual privatisation of the NHS by successive Right-wing administrations. It shows how the NHS is being starved of money, and forced to make further cuts in order to finance inefficient private health companies, which include multinational corporations seeking to make a profit over here. It shows how local health care is frequently closed down and sacrificed for the profit of these private companies elsewhere. This does not just include hospitals. I’ve already blogged a piece from a previous Private Eye about the closure of three GP’s surgeries in London after their clinic was taken over by a private health care company. In contrast to the rhetoric put out by the American and Tory supporters of private health care, it clearly is not more efficient. Indeed, it is much less so, especially as it needs to be supported by the state to gain funding.

The Tories in the run-up to last year’s election suggested that they would end the PFI. They haven’t, and won’t. That was another broken election promise from a party whose members, such as Iain Duncan Smith, have consistently lied and dissembled about the detrimental effects their policies have to the poor. It is not just New Labour that uses lies and spin. The corruption and indifference to the needs of patients extends even to the commissioning authorities. At the moment, the only local authorities, which commission health care, who have written into their constitution that private firms may only be used when this is of benefit to the patient is Bristol and one of the London boroughs. This will continue as long as there exists the revolving door by which ministers and civil servants join private companies as directors once they retire or leave government. For these people, it really is a case of ‘trebles all round’, in the words of Private Eye. And hang the ordinary patients.