NHS Vultures

Catalyst is an ‘award winning international corporate finance advisor’. As such, they advise investors and private equity firms about promising opportunities. One of the things that they advise on is the British healthcare ‘industry’.

So, given the Coalition promise that their Health and Social Care Act was ‘absolutely not’ about privatisation, what do you think Catalyst are telling advisers? Let’s start with this opinion piece, which is interesting reading. The first line pretty much says it all: “It’s time to put the trials and tribulations of the Health and Social Care Act to one side and emphasise the opportunities for the private sector in healthcare services.” Yes, that’s right - it’s time to put aside the fact that the Tories and Lib Dems have managed to persuade the majority of the electorate that their ‘reforms’ aren’t about privatisation, and go ahead and talk about the privatisation.

Of course, this privatisation has been going on for some time, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. Granted, you may have heard about Circle Healthcare’s takeover of Hinchingbrooke, or maternity services in the Wirral. You may also have heard about Virgin Care’s and CareUK’s contracts with the NHS - they happened to be mentioned in the Catalyst opinion piece too.

What you probably haven’t heard is that these private providers have failed numerous inspections since they started providing services. CareUK have failed 9 inspections by the Care Quality Commission this year, and yet may take over the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton this year. I guess failing inspections might not stop such things happening when your old Executive Director has given more than a quarter of a million pounds to the Tories.

Virgin Care’s Woking Community Hospital was also inspected. Among other things, the Care Quality Commission’s report found patients lying in their own urine, and Virgin were judged to have failed to treat patients with respect and involve them in discussions. Of course, you didn’t hear this on the news - you only hear about ‘NHS problems’.

This article is a rather good summary of what has happened so far. And we can look forward to a lot more privatisation. As this Catalyst ‘Healthcare Services Sector Report’ shows, investors are lining-up to pick the flesh from the bones of the NHS. You’ll notice that the report even includes a quote from the Chief Executive of Southern Cross (at the bottom of page 5) - you’ll remember how they are a great example of private care.

Of course, some people might say that they don’t care if the NHS is run by private companies for profit, as long as it’s ‘free at the point of use’. This is what the Liberal Democrats cling to as an excuse for voting for the NHS break-up. Interestingly, ‘free at the point of use’ has already started to change - certain Trusts have ended the right for pregnant mothers to have a 12 week scan. Some Trusts have begun denying hernia operations and treatment for varicose veins to NHS patients. Stephen Dorrell MP, the Chairman of the Health Select Committee has said that some services will be charged for and some will not. As to which will be… well, that’s a ‘postcode lottery’, thanks to the Government’s break-up of the NHS into lots of tiny, easy-to-buy pieces. And don’t think that the private sector will be competing on merit - the coalition have mandated that NHS hospitals have to each sell six services to the likes of CareUK and Virgin by next year, whether it’s cheaper, better, or more efficient… or not.

Finally, the government are keen to point out that other countries don’t operate healthcare like we do here (or did, until recently). Interestingly, doctors in the country that most closely resembles the system we’re moving to now don’t really like it at all and want to get rid of market forces. Fancy that.