Private equity running the NHS?

There was an interesting article in the Observer today, “Is it healthy for the NHS to go private?” The article makes the point that ever increasing proportions of the NHS budget are going into the hands of the private sector – increasingly to private equity companies. While there is a prediction that Alan Johnson may slow down the pace of privatisation, there is no suggestion that it will not continue, let alone be reversed.

Private equity company Cinven bought BUPA’s 26 hospitals this summer for £1.44 bn. Who is this latest entrant to the healthcare market? What is their expertise that will benefit NHS patients?

Their website makes their priorities clear:

  • Established in 1977, Cinven is one of the most prominent and successful investors in the European buyout market.
  • Our reputation has been built on our ability to deliver complex transactions, the quality of our people and the exceptional success of our funds.
  • Our achievements rest on our skill in applying effective strategies to our businesses, creating value and long-term growth.

So, an emphasis on funds, value and growth. Not much about healthcare, but a lot about profit.

BUPA sold the hospitals because that business line was less profitable than their health insurance business (and BUPA, of course, is busy helping the Government privatise NHS commissioning these days). Cinven believe they can increase the profitability of these hospitals, and the Government will ensure they succeed by pushing elective surgery to the private sector.

It’s increasingly clear that we’ll end up reading the Companies pages of the Financial Times to find out what is happening to our health service. Transparency and accountability are way down the agenda.

We need to reverse privatisation. Health workers know it doesn’t work, and there is little public support for the Government’s ‘NHS Reforms’. There is a growing awareness that ‘reform’ means cuts, privatisation, and worse patient care.

There was another massive demonstration on Saturday – this time in Chichester. Over 15,000 marched to oppose the closure of St. Richard’s Hospital, from the same Trust where 14,000 marched in Haywards Heath a couple of weeks ago.

If 29,000 can march in West Sussex, we should be able to get a massive demonstration in London next Saturday, November 3. We cannot afford any more Cinvens. Let’s show Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson we mean business.

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