- Conservative election poster 2010
A few recent news articles about the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat (Conservative) coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.
The Evening Standard has secured a decision by the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham that Lansley and the ‘Department of Health’ has to publish a secret report on the risks being taken with the NHS.
“The document is expected to reveal the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS from the unprecedented reshaping of the health service.”
Labour’s former health spokesman John Healey, who put in a similar FOI request for the risk documents which was also upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office, was scathing about the department’s conduct.
He said: “The year-long cover-up is a disgrace, especially when doctors, nurses, patients groups and the public are all so worried about the Tories’ NHS plans. The commissioner’s report is a demolition job of Lansley’s attempts to keep the truth from the public.”
He called on David Cameron to order the Health Secretary to “hand over the documents in full”.
In his ruling, Mr Graham said: “Disclosure would significantly aid public understanding of risks related to the proposed reforms and it would also inform participation in the debate about the reforms.”
Many commentaries on the private company Circle Healthcare running Hinchingbrooke hospital.
The government’s decision to sign a 10-year contract worth £1bn for an untested private company to manage the heavily indebted Hinchingbrooke hospital really is the triumph of hype over experience.
The hype has come thick and fast from Circle Healthcare’s smooth-talking boss, former Goldman Sachs banker Ali Parsadoust (known as Ali Parsa), who gives the impression that Circle is some kind of altruistic workers’ co-operative, while in fact it is controlled by private equity and hedge funds. Far from handing control to the workers, Circle takes a negative view of trade unions and will have to resort to old-fashioned cuts in the workforce if it is to generate the “efficiency savings” it needs to put the hospital into surplus.
More hype has come from the architect of the contract, NHS East of England’s director of strategy Dr Stephen Dunn, an enthusiastic advocate of private sector provision (which he denies is privatisation), whose unstinting efforts to secure this deal won him an award this year from HealthInvestor magazine.
But there is little in Circle’s record to justify Dunn’s belief that the company has the expertise to take on a project on the scale of Hinchingbrooke. The company has yet to make a success even of running its two tiny (30-bed) private hospitals, which were extravagantly expensive to build, and has run up six years of losses so far: hardly a good base to take on the bigger challenge of managing of a debt-ridden NHS general hospital 10 times the size and many more times more complex.
Even the NHS workforce that Circle will be attempting to manage at Hinchingbrooke is three times larger than the grand total of 568 people working for the whole Circle group. Only one of the company’s senior managers has any experience of managing an NHS hospital and he has left the company to rejoin the NHS. And so far they have set out no concrete proposals on how they plan to save money and turn around the finances when they take over in February.
A health privateer that posted millions in losses last year became the first company to get the green light to take over an NHS hospital today.
Circle, described as a “John Lewis-style” business because it is partly owned by clinicians, has signed a 10-year contract worth £1 billion to run Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust in Cambridgeshire.
The contract, which starts in February, marks the first time a private company delivers a full range of NHS district general hospital services.
Other firms only operate units within the NHS, such as hip replacement centres.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea warned that the takeover was “an accident waiting to happen,” put patients at risk and could lead to a second Southern Cross-style crisis.
The company has been given the task of combating Hinchingbrooke’s £39 million debt – though Circle itself recorded £27.4m losses in 2010.
Health Emergency director John Lister said the sums didn’t add up.
“It defies all logic when Circle cannot make a profit on its own tiny hospitals that it be handed over the running of an entire NHS hospital,” he said.
“Hinchingbrooke is 10 times bigger than any hospital Circle has ever run, with a vastly larger workforce as well as A&E.
“It will be totally out of its depth.”
Today you will hear repeated mentions of ‘mutualism’ and ‘employee owned’. Indeed, journalists are being briefed that Circle is what ministers regard as a model mutual – a ‘John Lewis’ approach to public services. Circle even provides information, via the Cabinet Office’s mutual helpline, about setting up new healthcare mutuals.
Circle is not a mutual. Indeed, it stretches the term slightly to call John Lewis a mutual (rather than an employee owned partnership). Circle Healthcare is minority owned by senior clinicians – not all of the hospital staff – and majority owned by private backers, including major Conservative Party donors. It is a listed business with the primary purpose of turning a profit, rather than delivering benefit to its members (let alone patients).
To use the term “mutual” in the same breath as “Circle Healthcare” is crass misrepresentation. It is a discredit to the century and a half development of the co-operative and mutual movement, which grew from working people pooling their resources to benefit themselves and their communities, intimately entwined with the labour and trades union movements.
The Royal College of Nursing today called for full “openness and transparency” over the deal signed by the government last night which hands a private company management control of an NHS trust.
The contract, signed at 11pm on Wednesday night hands Circle Health a 10-year management franchise of Cambridgeshire-based Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust, beginning in February 2012.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said the deal was a “hugely significant development, with wider implications for the provision of health services across the UK”.
He added: “It is vital that there is full openness and transparency around the deal and that Circle continues to provide a comprehensive range of services that can be easily accessed by the local community.
“We know the NHS is under huge financial pressure to save £20 billion by 2014 and that Hinchingbrooke Hospital is carrying about £40m of debt. These financial gaps must not be plugged by cutting local services such as accident and emergency in the future.