There was a time when our allotment shed crackled to the sound of leftie rhetoric. In those days heroes such as Michael Foot made their voices heard, and I well remember arguments raging. Everything commercial should be owned by the state was the cry of some of our long-gone pals. Today, with the Labour party’s policies barely distinguishable from those of the once hated Tories, such talk is no more, now merely a distant echo. Now the idea of free enterprise is the staple diet of everyone who bothers to even discuss politics. In the recent past there was something of an upsurge of hostility to the idea of the private sector taking over the last bastion of state control, the NHS, but, the Lansley bill having been approved, even that is fading, albeit in a mood of trepidation.
So, politics aside, it is perhaps time to ask ourselves whether we really trust the private sector to manage our health services which, after all, are crucial to every family in the land which lacks the wherewithal to pay for private treatment. It has to be said that, political ideology apart, there are very good reasons to worry about our lives beng transferred into private hands!
The ‘One Society’ has produced some data on pay differentials. It has found that private firms whose main income came from the public sector paid their chief officers far more than the highest paid public sector emloyee. For instance, Serco, which receives over 90% of its business from the taxpayer, paid top boss Christopher Hyman £3,149,950 in 2010. This is six times the highest paid public servant and eleven times the highest paid NHS or local authority chief. Should we as taxpayers really be happy with this?
Perhaps even more imortant is the issue of trustworthiness. In just a few days following his Commons ‘triumph’, Lansley has let it be known that hospital closures and takeovers are on the way. One of the many discussions between the Department of Health and proposed private saviours is with German health group Helios. The spin is that they have the ability to “tackle the performance improvement of English hospitals”. Put aside the question of how the public interest is served by paying huge salaries which in turn demand huge profits which in turn threaten the priority of patients, and merely seek reassurance that this company is of the ethical standard that health provision uniquely requires.
Helios is part of the Fresenius Group, which was fined $82 million in the USA in May for having “recklessly disregarded federal law when billing the US taxpayer for dialysis supplies and equipment”. Although the over-billing itself occurred just before Fresenius bought up the companies involved, Fresenius itself was accused in relation to the case.
Nor was it the German group’s first brush with the law. Ten years before, Fresenius settled the largest ever healthcare fraud case with civil and criminal penalties aproaching $500 million after making fraudulent claims from Medicare and paying kickbacks to get work referred its way. Then in 2005, another arm of Fresenius admitted its role in a pharmaceuticals cartel in South Africa, designed to “manipulate prices for pharmaceutical and hospital products”.
There is nothing to suggest Fresenius’s record is much worse than those of other private health companies with hungry investors to satisfy and it reasonable to assume that the record of the whole industry is somewhat short of reassuring.
Thanks to the supine Lib Demmers, Lansley is close to getting his chaotic and much amended bill through and the NHS as we have known it is heading for the file marked distant memories. Now that we are getting a closer look at the people who will take over, the prosect looks bleaker than ever.
You don’t have to be a leftie to believe that once the profit motive becomes the driving force the needs of the patient come second. Throw in dubious ethics, massive salaries and dividends, and the wonderful tomorrow outlined by Cameron and Lansley looks anything but!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. The Teletubbies 2. Lynda La Plante 3. Michael Howard 4. Doug. 5. 1980s 6. Karen Slater 7. Jeremy Guscott 8. Robson Green 9. Father Aidan 10. John Fashanu