- 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.
Virgin has featured in health news recently. Thatcher’s pet Capitalist appears to be profiteering from the privatisation of the NHS. I’d love for him to have an (analogous) smack – maybe put Virgin businesses out of business and invade and occupy Necker Island.
Verging on the ridiculous …
Richard Branson’s Virgin gain contract to profit from those suffering from sexual diseases in West Sussex
… in the week after the meeting a casual update of the Action Log for the West Sussex CCG was emailed confidentially to members of that CCG West Sussex board. On the Action Log was the announcement of a decision that Virgin were awarded the contract to make profit from sexual diseases in West Sussex. Had concerned board members not read the Action Log they may have been none the wiser. This is very concerning for several reasons. 3 members of that board have confided in me that
I have argued before that in a healthcare setting, choice is a misnomer: all hospitals should provide an excellent level of care because so many people – the old, the infirm – are unable to exercise choice because of geographical or physical limitations. But only now that we can see the shape of the NHS Bill can we truly assess what choice actually means.
What real choice did the people of Surrey have in who provided their community health services? The answer: none. The choice was made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who use “public consultation” as a fig leaf for fundamentally changing the nature of how healthcare is delivered.
Increasingly, the details of these decisions and the contracts that are drawn up are deemed commercially sensitive, so we are not privy to what is happening to our NHS and our money. For example, what providers other than Virgin might be an option for Surrey residents? After all, it’s about choice, isn’t it? The answer, again, is none. The good folk of Surrey haven’t been allowed to exercise a choice between providers – it’s Virgin Care or nothing. This isn’t a market in the true capitalist sense. This is a perverse, warped and corrupt reading of market principles. If we are going to open up healthcare in this country to the market, at least let’s do it properly, rather than handing out these whopping amounts of public cash to corporations that are also handed a captive consumer base. There’s no choice here.
It reminds me of the other market that Virgin has colonised: parts of the rail network. You often hear people complain about the cost of fares, the atrocious service and cramped conditions they have to endure. I’m lucky that I don’t have to commute, so I have not paid particular attention to this in the past. Then, last year, I did a book signing at a small, independent bookshop in Bramhall, near Manchester. I arrived at London’s Euston station mid-afternoon and went to the self-service ticket desk. I keyed in the details for a ticket to return later that night – £296. I stared at the screen in disbelief: was that a ticket to Bramhall by way of the Seychelles? It transpired that leaving at 4.30pm meant I was travelling at peak time. I had no choice but to swallow hard and pay up, just as countless others have to. Of course, the train was full, so I’d paid nearly £300 for the privilege of standing for two and half hours. There were no other train operators to choose from; no competition to drive up quality and push down prices. Just a dreadful service at extortionate cost.
Rail travel, like community health services, is not a fungible good – it cannot be exchanged for something else. You can’t travel to a different destination from the one you need to get to and you can’t seek treatment for a different condition to the one you have.
In these circumstances, choice doesn’t exist and it makes a mockery of a so-called market. The people of Surrey did not vote for this change or for their NHS to be gutted and served on a silver platter to Virgin Care. But this signals the shape of the NHS to come, and with such rich pickings, I doubt there will be many delays.
Rumour has it that Richard Branson is threatening to sue the Telegraph and the journalist, Max Pemberton, for his article published recently (broken link) which covers the Virgin takeover of NHS community services. People will soon be waking up to the fact that the NHS is no longer the provider of care in many areas.
It seems that a high court injunction was served on Sunday to try to prevent the article being published and Branson is apparently demanding a half-page reply. Branson is said to also be unhappy about related tweeting and is including this as part of the case. Pemberton could face costs of up to £90,000.
It appears too that the Department of Health have engineered a major media campaign to dampen down press interest hence the under-reporting of these takeovers by the BBC and other media.
Branson’s/Virgin’s actions are a very worrying sign of things to come for those who dare question these sorts of deals. The real concern is that dissenting voices will be silenced or frightened off so it’s important to speak up and write in in support of Pemberton’s article. Anyone who faces similar intimidation should also speak out.
PM’s election pledge in jeopardy as report reveals patients waiting 6% longer and fewer receiving planned operations
Patients are enduring increasingly long delays before having some of the most common forms of surgery, according to official data that casts serious doubt on David Cameron‘s pledge to keep NHS waiting times low.
New research by the Patients Association also shows that fewer patients are undergoing planned operations such as joint replacements, cataract removal and hernia repairs, as the NHS tries to make £20bn of efficiency savings at a time when demand for healthcare is growing.
A report from the association, based on information supplied by 93 of England’s 170 acute hospital trusts, found that waiting times for a range of elective operations rose between 2010 and 2011.