Don’t Break Up the NHS

As the holed and bloody NHS logo under Jeremy the Vulture suggests, the NHS has been subjected to a long and brusing campaign of privatisation by the coalition and Tory governments since 2010 (and New Labour before then didn’t help.)

Many of us have found that our NHS clinics and services have been taken over by companies including Richard Branson’s Virgin Healthcare, and more and more of our NHS services are being moved into the hands of private companies, with even some NHS hospitals being run by them – though at least one has been returned to the NHS when the private company found it couldn’t make enough.

The process of privatisation has been carried out largely by stealth through various reforms by politicians who mouth about the NHS being safe in their hands while selling off parts of it to companies owned by party donors, friends and relatives and deliberately failing to cope with many of the real problems of the system.

One of the latest of these back-door privatisation schemes is the ICP contract. The Health & Social Care Act 2012 forced competitive contracting onto the English NHS, resulting in the wasting huge amounts of time and resources on competition and tendering processes. NHS England want to plaster over the obvious failures of this by adding another layer of contracting, the Integrated Care Provider contract, rather than getting rid of the system which has failed.

Brexit comes into all of this through the hope by some leading Brexiteers that after Brexit we would be able to offer the US a trade treaty which would enable American healthcare companies to take over much of our NHS as an incentive to get advantageous terms for British companies trading with the US.

The introduction of ICPs would break the NHS into smaller business units which would be competed for by private sector organisations. The plan is being driven by NHS England under CEO Simon Stevens, previously a senior executive of the giant US healthcare and health insurance company United Health Group.

The Carillion failure shows the danger of such contracting arrangements, where a failure of a ‘lead provider’ with multiple sub-contracters has led to thousands of job losses, abandoned major projects (including part-built hospitals), poorer services and great public expense.  Similar arrangements with multiple levels of contracting also made possible some of the failures which made Grenfell Tower a deathtrap.

We need – in the NHS and elsewhere – to move towards simpler systems and eliminate the many unnecessary and costly levels of management. Huge amounts too are wasted on consultancy fees. There is a kind of cult of management which bears no relation to its actual utility and too often it gets in the way of efficient working of organisations rather than facilitating it, often by forcing unsuitable structures in a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of ICP, for which I suggest you look at the National Health Action Party’s page Reasons NHS England should scrap the draft ICP contract. The party and most of the speakers at the protest were professionals with years of experience in the NHS who are appalled at the privatisation which has taken place.

Among those who came to speak at the event was MP Eleanor Smith, a former NHS theatre nurse and Unison President, whose private members NHS Reinstatement Bill was due for its second reading later in the day, calling for the re-nationalisation of the NHS. 

Public services campaigning group ‘We Own It‘ had come to the event with a petition with 31,870 signatures to scrap the ICP contract, a large number considering the rather technical nature of the scheme, and after the rally the campaigners marched to the Dept of Health to hand in.

More pictures at Scrap ICP Contract, Keep NHS Public

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