Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Telegraph, the Think Tank and a Very Dodgy Business


"And the whole sequence of Telegraph articles and editorials on the importance of the Government not going soft on public service reform, including some strong pieces on health, is something I have been orchestrating and working with Reform to bring about.’ - David Worskett – Director of NHS Partners Network – Communication document written on 20th May 2011

This extraordinary sentence is written by the director of private health lobby group David Worskett, as part of an overall feedback for the NHS Partners Network’s members towards the end of so-called ‘listening period’ in the Health bills passage.

The document, which landed into the hands of Social Investigations, has not only revealed the true nature of the lobbying that took place, during the ‘pause’, but also according to the document, revealed a coordinated response between a national newspaper, a healthcare lobby group, and a right-wing think tank to make sure the government didn’t go ‘soft’ on reforms to the public sector, including the NHS.

In the memorandum under the title: ‘the Media’, Mr Worskett stated how the lobby group had agreed to ‘up’ the profile on ‘key issues’ without ‘inflaming the debate.’ A fine line to tread at a time when the opposition to the bill was near total across the medical profession, and especially so, given the absence of any private health company representatives in the NHS Future Forum, the group set up to in order to ‘pause, listen and reflect’ on the content of the existing Health and Social Care Bill.

So who are the connections at Reform?
One key member of Reform is the Deputy Director, Nick Seddon, who was formally the head of communications for private hospital company Circle. Mr Seddon was very active promoting the benefits of competition in the Telegraph during the so-called ‘listening period.’

Circle is a member of the NHS Partners Network, who employ Mark Simmonds the MP for Boston and Skegness, for £50,000 per year as a strategic advisor. Not only this, research conducted by Social Investigations found all the founders are linked to the Conservative party, and three of the five trustees have given money to the Conservative party. The research resulted in a complaint being sent to the charity commission, in which a decision awaits. 

David Worskett
The Telegraph connection – the ‘listening period’
On 18th May 2011, just two days before Mr Worskett wrote his feedback to the lobby group members, Mr Seddon appeared in the Telegraph under the title: ‘Why the NHS needs a regulator.’ Aghast at the way Monitor’s role was changing from promoting competition to promoting patient’s interests, Mr Seddon wrote in the paper to express his frustration. ‘As Mr Clegg goes around saying that "instead of having a duty to promote competition, Monitor's main duty should be explicitly to protect and promote the interests of patients", he fails to notice that the two are not in conflict and competition is actually in the best interests of patients.’

This article followed another piece, written two days previously, where Mr Seddon announced how Reform had published six case studies on the benefits of open competition in public services. Only one example was to do with healthcare. These were just two examples of many articles in which the Telegraph provided a platform for the NHS Partners Network to promote the interests of its members, and the MPs and Lords working for those companies.

Nick Seddon
If Nick Seddon wasn’t writing an article in favour of competition, then co-founder of Reform, Andrew Haldenby was appearing in the paper promoting the benefits of the cuts to the NHS such as his April 2011, piece titled: ‘These ‘cuts’ might do the NHS some good’. Other Telegraph journalists willfully joined in. Health correspondent Martin Beckford, and Health editor Rebecca Smith both loyally carried messages from the lobby group director David Worskett in several articles. All of them published during the ‘pause’ period.

At this point it is worth noting that Reform a self-proclaimed ‘independent’ charity has many corporate partners involved in health: Aviva, BMI healthcare, Capita, GE Healthcare, McKesson to name but a few. Are these a genuine independent charity or more a vehicle to lobby for the handing over of public services into the hands of corporations they appear to represent?

Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher
So David Worskett the lobby group’s director wasn’t exaggerating when he said he was ‘orchestrating’ the material that the Telegraph editorial allowed to go in unchallenged. David Worskett said to Social Investigations that the quote "does not say there was, and should not be taken in any way to imply, "orchestration" with the Daily Telegraph or indeed any other media." 

As head of the ‘Choice and Competition’ within the NHS Future Forum, Mr Bubb was a key person to target for lobbying. It is important to remind you at this point how David Worskett and Stephen Bubb had met early on into the ‘listening period’, where they had one ‘lengthy’ discussion which they had agreed ‘on the approach he would take’, what the ‘key issues’ are, and how to ‘handle the politics’. He hadn’t the document revealed, ‘deviated from this for a moment throughout the period.’

Mr Bubb and Mr Seddon are both on very good terms, as revealed in a post written by Sir Stephen Bubb on his blog a week before the official launch of the NHS Future Forum on the 31st of March 2011.

He gushes: ‘So a somewhat bleary eyed early morning start to get to Canary Wharf for a big Reform conference on the Big Society. I was on the opening panel, chaired by my favourite think tank leader, Nick Seddon.’

The article Bubb ‘wrote’ for the Telegraph tells us with no hint of irony that: ‘There are vested interests’. He wasn’t however talking about his fellow collaborators with whom he made agreements, but meant, ‘principally the health service unions’.  He puts words in their mouth by stating: ‘They (the unions) say the reforms are ideologically driven, essentially privatisation by another name.’ Competition according to the unions he argues ‘will benefit the shareholders of multinational private companies’.

Yes Mr Bubb, that is exactly what will happen, and with your help.

The role of a journalist ought to be to research thoroughly the facts of any subject matter and report the findings based on what is found. A newspaper has a responsibility to provide this information fairly and honestly. What does this say about the current editor of the Telegraph Tony Gallagher?  The very idea that a member of a lobby group orchestrated the Telegraph’s editorial ought to bring shame on the paper, and embarrassment to those associated with it.

The Telegraph are not alone, all papers and media allow differing voices to appear in the media but the opposing voices are not necessarily challenged. Rather they are allowed to sit side by side to leave people to decide what is right and wrong. 

The corporate owned media cannot be trusted, ‘journalists’, who willingly promote the wishes of a private healthcare lobby group with challenge, are nothing more than spokesperson’s for that organisation and their motives. Possibly the Telegraph owners, the twins Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who are worth £1.8 billion and live as tax exiles, will say a job well done.

3 comments:

  1. I read quite a few of these heavily biased and one-sided 'articles'in various papers.It's astonishing that the authors/somebody's lackey[not journalists for sure] think that their prejudice and intention is not clear to see.It may win favour with the owners,but loses them any respect as journalists.Editors especially should see this and know how obnoxious and repellant such bunkum is.
    I think most of the popular media is failing the public with their trivialising,short-lived,small-spectrum,sound-bite 'analysis'.

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    Replies
    1. and that very much includes the BBC, which never attempted to speak the truth of what was happening, to its eternal shame

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  2. All very true, but journalists are almost never given enough time to do said research.

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