How the Tories Stuck a Knife into the National Health Service

Who would have thought that so many British lords with financial stakes in the companies who are set to take over the NHS would vote in favour of selling off the NHS? Profit over people as usual – meanwhile cancer patients are set to die by the thousands as they face exorbitant treatment costs. Vice explains how Tory ideology enriches the few at the cost of the many.

The Tories’ NHS reforms are the death of the British health service as we know it. The private companies that have been circling overhead for decades have already started picking over its corpse like greedy carrion crows. And a last-ditch attempt to overturn the crucial element of the bill that opens up the NHS to privatisation failed this week, changing the 65-year-old institution forever.

The Health and Social Care Act is 473 pages long, required 1,000 amendments and contains catchy sentences like, “…where the relevant body is satisfied that the services to which the contract relates are capable of being provided only by that provider”. Granted, the writing might not be quite as thrilling as, say, Philip K Dick or waiting in line at the tax office, but that particular sentence is really important.

The new guidelines are known as Section 75 and ensure that companies can bid to provide any health service. Which means Virgin could be running mental health clinics and Claims Direct managing A&E departments, which is a pretty worrying prospect.

It’s clear the bill is a bad idea when you realise that the list of health organisations that wanted to kill it is longer than Gucci Mane’s rap sheet. And yes, something needs to be done to address the NHS budget – treatments are getting more expensive and we’re living longer, so we’re needing more of them – but this part of the bill isn’t about saving money, it’s about Tory ideology.

“We will simplify and decentralise the [National Health] service… We shall therefore allow pay-beds to be provided where there is a demand for them; end Labour’s vendetta against the private health sector.” That’s not Cameron on the bill, it’s from Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 manifesto. And the Prime Minister matched it almost word-for-word: “We will decentralise power, so that patients have a real choice… [we] have campaigned to defend the NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.” The only difference is he didn’t have the balls to seek a mandate for everything that’s in the bill.


The NHS Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. (Image via)

The NHS will struggle to compete with private firms, and siphoning off services stands to fragment healthcare provision. Tony O’Sullivan – a consultant paediatrician and director of children’s services at Lewisham Hospital, which faces its own battle because of failed public-private partnerships – told me why the new plans aren’t going to work. “There are two government directives that are completely clashing,” he said. “The health service should be more integrated, more joined up, through efficient partnerships. And the other is to insist that healthcare is put out to tender and healthcare becomes a commodity. If you make healthcare a market, you set up something that’s against cooperation.”

The Health Department’s response to O’Sullivan? “Competition and integration are not opposing forces and to present them as such is a false dichotomy.” Which, as far as rebuttals go, isn’t a very convincing one.

Predictably, there’s a conflict of interests. The Mirror has already exposed the £203,500 given by John Nash’s wife to the Tory party, for example, including £21,000 to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who worked on the bill before Jeremy Hunt took over. Nash is a hedge fund boss who profits from the financial performance of a string of private healthcare firms. And that’s just one example.

You remember Jeremy Hunt, right? He’s the guy who botched the handling of News International’s BSkyB bid to a near-criminal degree because of his intimate relationship with the Murdochs. But he hasn’t been spending the last year languishing on Jobseeker’s, combing local bus stops for discarded fag butts and drinking White Lightning. Instead, he got a promotion to health secretary and is now overseeing the biggest overhaul of the NHS in its history, including the management of its corporate relations.

A billion pounds’ worth of contracts were put through the meat grinder in the first week and that’s just the start. The NHS has spent £3 billion on the re-organisation, including £1 billion on redundancy payments for laid off workers who often move to the private providers, according to Labour.

The point is that the Tories have always wanted to open up the NHS to the private sector. And now they’ve finally managed to do it, all under an obscure amendment that was made late in the game, that they didn’t have a mandate for and was never fully justified.

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