The view from the ‘burning platform’ - Medicine Balls, Private Eye Issue 1439 10th March 2017


Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has the gall to repeat the lie that the NHS is not for sale.

ACCORDING to Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals, the NHS stands on a “burning platform” with 11 percent of trusts rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and 70 percent requiring improvement. Understaffing and overcrowding put patients and staff at risk every day.

Meanwhile, private providers lead by Virgin Care are busy “conquering the community care space”, says HealthInvestor magazine. “A market worth around £10bn has suddenly become a private affair.” Virgin has already hoovered up more than 400 health, social care and local authority services’ contracts, worth more than £1bn. It’s “quite the portfolio”, according to HealthInvestor, and other companies are lining up to conquer what’s left. “The chance to drink in a £9bn pool is tantalising.”

There is a clear underfunding and privatising trend in NHS and local authority services. Between April 2013 and April 2016, 45 percent of the community health services that were put out to tender went to non-NHS providers. Private operators now run the following:

  • GP and out-of-hours services
  • Walk-in centres and minor injury units
  • District nursing
  • Diabetes, musculoskeletal, audiology, dermatology, physiotherapy, podiatry, rheumatology, mental health and other chronic disease services
  • Not to mention urgent care, phlebotomy, anti-coagulation, sexual health, wheelchair services, prison healthcare, community hospitals, neuro-rehabilitation, frail and elderly care, health visiting, services for children with complex mental, physical and sensory learning difficulties, social care for adults and children, and end-of-life care.


The whole range of community healthcare has now been privatised while Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt – and Tony Blair and Alan Milburn before them – have the gall to repeat the lie that the NHS is not for sale. The NHS has outsourced its very essence – much of the complex, difficult care that requires close collaboration and team working has been contracted out. Virgin argues that such care was fragmented when the NHS offered it and that it has a much better chance of joining it up under one organisation. The more it hoovers up, the more it can join up.

Former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act has allowed companies like Virgin to aggressively tender for any service they want, and to legally challenge the award of any contract that doesn’t allow them to make a pitch. That pitch is deceptively simple. “Our aim is to make a real difference to people’s lives by offering NHS and social care services that are better than what went before, a great experience for everyone and better value for the public and the NHS.”

When the NHS pitches for services it tends to be far more downbeat, citing the reality of trying to keep an underfunded, understaffed service afloat in the face of rising public demand and expectation. It’s easy to see how the clinical commissioning groups and local authorities who award the contracts fall for the optimistic swagger of Virgin. The company generally employs the NHS staff who were providing the services previously, and gives them smart phones, colour printers and other gadgets you have to fight for in the NHS. It claims that 93 percent of customers recommend its services to friends and family. If it can provide better services than the NHS for the same cost or less, then why not?

NHS commissioners are often naïve (remember PFI?), and get turned over in contracts, which companies stick to aggressively. “If it’s not in the contract, we’re not doing it” rarely equates with universal healthcare. Yet despite some tough negotiating, Virgin Care has yet to make a profit in seven years doing business. In the year ending 31 March 2015, turnover was reported as £40.38m leading to a gross profit of £5.2m, but with administrative expenses of more than £20m, the company made a loss of £9.1m. When will shareholders start demanding it balances the books and cuts back on smart phones?

Virgin recently lost its community services contract for children in Surrey. As a whistleblower told the Eye: “Virgin Care are now concentrating on recouping as much money as possible […] threatening removal of laptops and mobile phones with little thought for safe transfer of care. They have been restricting information sharing with the new provider and talking about intellectual property rights. Many staff are feeling anxious about being able to carry on with ‘business as usual’ on 1 April.” Meanwhile, the government is launching 10-year multi-specialty community provider contracts to take the pressure off hospitals. “It’s another lucrative opportunity for the private sector,” says HealthInvestor.


PS - from the same Private Eye issue:   "Sorry is the hardest word...  PwC Oscars"

Best milking of the taxpayer award:
PwC has been the most active of all financial advisers on private finance initiative schemes, including some of the most ruinously expensive. It advised Barts NHS trust (which runs St Bartholomew and the Royal London hospitals) in signing up to a £1bn deal that now costs the hospital £120m a year as it runs up annual deficits of a similar amount based on flawed value-for-money calculations. The trust’s chairman at the time said: “This is what got Enron into trouble. It’s all off the balance sheet. It’s cloud cuckoo land, Alice in Wonderland stuff.” Asked by MPs a few years ago if he would reveal how much his firm had made on its hundreds of contracts, the firm’s PFI supremo Richard Abadie replied: “Probably not. I believe that is commercially confidential.”


Press coverage of the Health Campaigns Together demo of 4th March 2017 in central London

The Metro;  the Daily Mail; BBC news on line;  the Guardian;  the Mirror.

Funnily enough there is no report in the Daily Telegraph, but they have instead decided to cover a story about "fat cats" in the NHS - shame that they haven't noticed the fattest cats of them all, among them Dr Tracey Batten who earns £100K more than the ones the Daily Telegraph has collared.

Video clips by SOH's video journalist and editor:

Merril Hammer, SOH chair says NHS campaigners must work together... 
"We will win this fight and protect Our NHS" - H&F Council leader, Stephen Cowan 
"STPs will be used to dismantle the NHS" A&E nurse at the Our NHS March 04/03/2017
Jeremy Corbyn MP supporting the NHS at Our NHS March 04/03/2017 
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP at Our NHS March 04/03/2017 
"Let me give you some TRUTH from the front line of the NHS" - Dr Gurj Sandhu 
STPs = Cuts 
"This Government is dismantling and selling off the NHS"
"Our NHS is at breaking point" Dr Jeeves Wij - BMA 
"Freedom from the fear of catastrophic health costs" Our NHS 04/03/2017 - Junior Doctors 
"Reinstatement of the NHS must be supported" Our NHS March 04/03/2017 - Junior Doctors 
"If you don't fight every inch of the way you are finished" Larry Sanders 
Save Our Hospitals Services Devon 
"We will not stay quiet as Jeremy Hunt sells off our Health Services" 
"Conservatives ideological hatred of the NHS and Public services" Dr Tony O' Sullivan, KONP 
" I want to live in a society that provide health care to every single person" 
"The Government is doing nothing to address the NHS crisis" Sam Fairbairn​, ​The​ People's Assembly​
"Join our cause to SAVE the NHS" Dr John Lister at Our NHS March 04/03/2017 
"Migrants lives matter" - Our NHS march 04/03/2017 
"I refuse to be blamed for the mistakes of this Government" Immigrant Health worker at Our NHS March 
"NHS workers have been treated in a disgraceful way"
"Nurses are struggling to put food on the table" Danielle Jade​, Royal College of Nursing 
Our NHS March 04/03/2017 

Schmoozers' delight: Nuffield Trust Health Policy Summit March 2017

From a Spinwatch article dated 1st April 2015

The influence of the private sector on the agenda of the NHS is powerful, as the following details of the forthcoming Health Policy Summit organised by the Nuffield Trust on 2nd and 3rd March 2017 make clear.

The two days conference at Wotton House, Dorking includes two highest NHS directors (CEO Simon Stevens and Chief Clinical Information Officer Prof Keith McNeil) as well as current Government committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, two Heads of Royal Colleges, professors from Oxbridge, reps of sponsors, etc... It is sponsored by Optum (about 50% of UnitedHealth Group - sic ), the Health Foundation (spun out of PPP Healthcare insurers on demutualisation), MSD (Merk Sharp and Dohme) the US drugs company, Boston Consulting Group, the British Medical Journal and Guardian Healthcare Professionals network. The NHS is not a sponsor but senior NHS directors, including Simon Stevens "in conversation" at 10.20 on the 2nd day, will be participating or, more realistically, being schmoozed by the sponsors.


Day 1 programme and speakers:

Day 2 programme and speakers:

The days are being live-streamed on the Nuffield Trust website. Unfortunately the conversations around the conference and on the first evening 6-7pm will not be live-streamed.

I notice that Dr Tracey Batten, CEO of Imperial NHS Trust, is taking part in a panel discussion: "Learning from international health systems" at 5.10 on the first day. She is going back to Australia in 6 months.


Private Eye Medicine Balls "Bed Hunting" 27th Jan 2017