Neo-liberalism is dead. The market has failed. Almost thirty years of government policy – first from the Tories and more recently from new Labour – lies in ruins. We have a brilliant opportunity now to break with the nonsensical notion that it’s not worth doing something unless the private sector can make a load of money out of it.
There’s a challenge, though. This Government is so entrenched in reactionary ideology that we still have a fight on our hands. The civil servants running the Department of Health are so imbued with the notion of ‘Private good, public bad’ that they cannot begin to comprehend an alternative.
There was a little bit of press coverage last week – in the Financial Times and the Health Service Journal – about an event called ‘The 2008 Annual Investing in Healthcare Conference’. It was organised by a company called Laing and Buisson. Laing and Buisson is a private sector company providing advice and information to independent sector healthcare providers, amongst others. The FT article is here.
The Conference dealt with some really weighty issues: market growth, profitability, risks, opportunities for investment and so on. There was a panel discussion on ‘investing in healthcare post credit crunch’, led by experts from Barclays Bank, Brewin Dolphin Securities, Apposite Capital and friends. All very interesting stuff, and I would have liked to be there just to find out what they’re saying. A bit pricey at £565 for the day, but refreshments were included, apparently. The Conference programme is worth a look.
Was patient care discussed at all? Maybe – but there’s no mention of it in the coverage I’ve seen. This year’s ‘difficult market conditions’ seem to have been a greater priority.
A lot of us – healthcare workers, campaigners for the NHS and so on – will find events like this a bit nauseating. The Government is less squeamish, because Government policy – sadly – is to continue driving forward the privatisation agenda.
At the Conference on 29th October, a senior DOH civil servant called Bob Ricketts spoke. He flagged up Government plans for a larger private role in the NHS. Primary care trusts will be encouraged to divest themselves of services such as district nursing, therapy services and health visiting. Ricketts said, “This is about changing a huge system, and it will take time. But I think you will see a continuing trend towards greater involvement of the independent sector…”
Ricketts announced that the Department of Health is working on propositions “to lower barriers to entry” (i.e. to make it easier for big business to grab chunks of the NHS). The collapse of the banks makes it harder for private healthcare suppliers to borrow money. Fine, say Brown and Johnson. Let’s subsidise them so they won’t have to borrow money. One proposal – to overcome those nasty financial difficulties – is that the NHS will have to provide buildings and facilities, and the private sector will just have to provide the healthcare. Another option is for property companies to take over NHS buildings and lease them to successful bidders.
There are a few other nasties going on that are all about handing over more and more of our NHS to the private sector. I’ll cover these in another post.
The Government’s already bailed out the banks. Now they’re bailing out the companies that are ripping apart the NHS. Commonsense doesn’t apply here, and clearly isn’t going to. There’s a clear and ongoing need for our trade unions and campaign groups to defend the NHS.