Tuesday 26 June 2012

The BBC's failure to challenge Lansley's healthcare connections

The BBC have admitted to not challenging Andrew Lansley on two donations he accepted from individuals in private healthcare, yet fail to accept any wrongdoing.

When Andrew Lansley unveiled his plans to restructure the NHS and increase the opportunities for private healthcare providers, it would be reasonable to expect alarm bells to ring inside the heads of journalists. Yet as the Health and Social Care bill was being debated in parliament with accusations of privatisation shouted from all and sundry, the BBC remained silent.

His connections
When shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley accepted donations to run his office from two individuals connected to private healthcare. In 2008 he received a donation from Julian Schild, who owned hospital bed-makers Huntleigh Technology, the largest manufacturer of NHS beds. The other donation came from John Nash, the then chairman of Care UK, who gave £21,000 to fund Lansley’s personal office in November 2009. Hedge fund boss John Nash, now a Lord, is one of the major Conservative donors with close ties to the healthcare industry. He and wife Caroline have given £276,000 to the party since 2006. Mr Nash is also a founder of City firm Sovereign Capital, which runs a string of private healthcare firms.

In addition, Andrew Lansley’s wife, Sally Low, is founder and managing director of Low Associates (“We make the link between the public and private sectors”). A Daily Telegraph report in February reveals that the Low Associates website as having pharmaceuticals companies SmithKline Beecham, Unilever and P&G among its clients.

Yet, despite this information being published in other media, the BBC in an extraordinary journalistic failure, failed to highlight these clear conflicts of interest. The lack of exposure would have been absolute had it not been for one article written in 2008, which touched on the Huntleigh bed Ltd connection.

Response to complaint
The complaint came about following a search on the BBC site in all areas, and on the search engines for stories by the BBC on the subject of Lansley and the donations. There was nothing. Yet, this remarkable and gross dereliction of duty, was brushed aside by the BBC, who following a complaint made by Social Investigations, denied there was any issue over their coverage:

I understand that you believe we've neglected to highlight issues surrounding Andrew Lansley and allegations that he received money from Care UK Chairman, John Nash as well as Julian Schild…Although I appreciate your concerns, choosing the stories to cover is a subjective matter and one which we know not every viewer will feel we get right every time. Factors such as whether it is how much national interest there is in the subject matter will all play a part in deciding the level of coverage and where it falls within a bulletin.

This response is appalling. The ‘allegations’ as this letter suggests, are actually facts that other newspapers were able to publish. In addition, surely when the health secretary and author of the Health and Social Care bill has had his office funded by individuals linked to private healthcare, he at the very least would expect to be challenged and disbelieved on his motives until proven otherwise. This is especially important, given the bill he wrote is about to substantially increase the amount of private healthcare involvement in the NHS. I think this can safely fall into the category of ‘national interest.’ As Media Lens pointed out in their alert titled: ‘People Will Die’ - The End Of The NHS. Part 2: Buried By The BBC – ‘The BBC has a duty, enshrined in its Charter, to report objectively on stories of national and international interest.’
Indeed, now that we see the likes of Serco and Virgin grabbing chunks of the service, it only amplifies what we the public suspected all along. Andrew Lansley, big business and the front men of the Conservative party, want to hand over the NHS to the corporations that sit in the House of Lords and Parliament. We now know that 1 in 4 Conservative Lords have financial interests to companies involved in private healthcare, who despite these conflicts of interest, were able to vote on Lansley’s bill. We also now know that over 50 MPs have these same interests, most of which are Conservatives.

It’s not as if there wasn’t any chance to bring it up. When Mr Lansley was confronted by campaigner Jean Hautot outside the gates to Downing Street, he was forced to defensively say: "The NHS is not for sale, there will be no privatisation." Yet, even in the article written on this incident, the BBC failed to challenge him. One of literally hundreds of missed opportunities to hold the Health Secretary to account.  
BBC lack of trust
Trust in the BBC is not improved when we learn from the Telegraph that the BBC spent £2.2 million of public money on private healthcare for hundreds of senior BBC staff between 2008-2010. Neither does it help having the Lord Patten of Barnes as Chairman of the Trust. The Trust is responsible for ensuring standards such as impartiality and fairness be maintained in the public interest. The Conservative Peer is a member of the European Advisory Board for a private equity investment company called Bridgepoint. The private equity firm which has been involved in17 healthcare deals over recent years Eight of these companies remain as their current investments, which include four in the UK at a combined investment worth over £1.1 billion. One company acquired by Bridgepoint was residential care company Care UK, whose chairman was the person who donated to Lansley.

The Executive Board, which oversees the ‘operational management’ for the delivery of services agreed with the Trust, has a Dr Mike Lynch sitting on the board. Media Lens revealed how Lynch is a ‘non-executive director of Isabel Healthcare Ltd, a private company specialising in medical software. He is also a director of Autonomy PLC, a computing company whose customers include Isabel Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield (a health insurance firm), AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and several other pharmaceutical companies.’  In addition he is on the advisory board of investment company Apax Partners, which is a leading global investors in the Healthcare sector’.
So the BBC could do itself some favours. Drop Chris Patten and Dr Mike Lynch from their respective positions. If the public say you are not doing a good job, don’t dismiss it as a belief and the next time Andrew Lansley speaks about the NHS, challenge him on his donations from healthcare company individuals set to benefit from the bill he produced. Indeed, by failing to challenge Lansley from when he became Health Secretary up until when the Health and Social Care bill became an Act, the BBC has let down not only the people they are meant to inform, but also themselves.

Monday 25 June 2012

Olympics: London takes Gold

London Takes Gold from Marie Billegrav Bryant on Vimeo.
My personal experience of the Olympics has been interesting. Our community, my home, the Clays Lane Housing Cooperative, home to about 500 people, was demolished in 2007 to make way for the Olympic “Park”. Our homes were ground up into piles of little nuggets about 20mm in diameter.  The piles of nuggets diapered leaving no trace.  I moved onto a boat. The authorities then tried to socially cleanse our boat community from London’s waterways. In an exhausting struggle we fought back and won that particular battle.  The authorities now require us to move our homes / boats out of our home turf, almost out of London, for 3 months over the Olympic period. Apparently we are seen as a security threat. I am uncertain if we will be allowed back in to our home waterways after the 5 ringed circus has left town.  I have spent 8 days in prison after an incident on an Olympic construction site.  I have been charged with Common Assault.  I will be pleading not guilty to this.  My trial date is set for the last day of the Olympics.  Until then my bail conditions keep me away from some Olympic venue/s. In my view the authorities are using bail conditions as a political weapon to keep Olympic dissenters quiet (not just me).

At the bid phase, Sebastian Coe and his cohort were keen to use local kids to promote their plans. Some of those kids accompanied the bid delegation to Singapore. Coe’s strategy was to persuade voters on the International Olympic Committee that London’s bid would benefit local children from some of the the most deprived parts of London. Now 6 years later, and a month before the Opening Ceremony Olympic chiefs are “protecting” the surroundings of the Olympic enclosure with so called “dispersal zones”. Within these a police officer has the power to order a group of two or more young people to leave an area and to ban them from returning for up to 24 hours. These control orders are aimed at the same local children they claimed would benefit from London 2012. Non-”dispersal” can lead to a maximum penalty of three months' imprisonment and/or a fine of £5000.  During my stay in prison I met many young men in their early 20s from poor backgrounds.  They have not benefited from the Olympic project.

The Olympics has a dark history with a history of corruption and fascism, not only in relation to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, but also due to the politics of the International Olympic Committee’s ex president, Juan Antonio Samaranch y Torell√≥, an enthusiastic Spanish Fascist.   The 1968 Mexico City Olympics are remembered for 2 US athletes giving the black power salute. But about 2 weeks before those famous salutes there were student protests in Mexico City. Chanting at these demonstrations included “No queremos olimpiadas, queremos revoluci√≥n”, in English, "We don't want Olympics, we want revolution”. Perhaps not the image the Mexican ruling class would like propagated to visiting VIPs during their Olympics. The Olympia Battalion was called on to sort things out. They were a secret Mexican government security outfit set up to ensure the safety and security of the 1968 Games. A massacre followed. Women, children, bystanders, and protesters, a hundred or more people were murdered. The numbers are disputed, but probably somewhere between 100 and 500.

An Olympic issue that is not receiving sufficient coverage in the mainstream media is the securitisation of society based on an Olympic model.  Peak surveillance will be reached in the UK during the Games.  The Olympic “Park” itself is surrounded by a 17.5 km, 5,000volt electric fence. The fence is topped with 900 daylight and night vision surveillance cameras linked with facial recognition software. But what is going on outside the ‘“park” is more important.  Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Chris Alison has publicly stated that the authorities will be monitoring social media and gathering intelligence on Olympic dissenters. The extent of the monitoring remains unknown.  New software is planned to integrate all of London's CCTV cameras, and will have the capability to follow you through the city. Behavioral recognition software is also expected to be used.  

We now learn that missiles are to be dotted around our Olympic city though it is unclear who or what they are supposed to protect us from. There will be pilotless drones with laser guided bombs, there will be battleships on the Thames also with missiles. I wonder what would happen if these weapons were actually used in a densely populated area like London. Surely the “collateral damage” would be significant? 

While pandering to the every need of VIPs, 2012 organisers have, stated they will put on a good show - “no matter what”! But the list of enemies, the list of those that might spoil the fun is extensive. Streakers, terrorists, ambush marketeers, brand hijackers, space hijackers, real hijackers, ticket touts, Olympic flame firefighters, Tibetans, and survivors of Olympic sponsor Dow Chemical, everyone except the VIPs are on the list of suspects. Even the athletes are seen as a potential brand hijack risk. Streaking at the Olympics carries a maximum £20,000 penalty.

Approximately 13,000 military, 13,000 police, 23,000 private security, plus VIP and sponsors’ security is to be deployed during the Games. Elite military units such as the SAS, Paras, and Marines are to be mobilised, and nations such as the US are to deploy at least 1,000 of their own security staff. Britain may never have seen so many firearms concentrated into such a small area. And according to the UK’s Independent newspaper - “the British Secret Service is carrying out its biggest operation since the Second World War with almost all of its 3,800 staff mobilised for the London Olympics which will take place amid rising concerns over the possibility of terrorist attacks.”

The London Olympics is not a sporting event.  It is a security event with a bit of sport on the side, and while the list of suspects, those that might cause trouble during the games, is endless, the shopping list of equipment designed to neutralize them is without limit.  One could be forgiven for thinking London 2012 is a giant security exhibition - “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for manufactures of security equipment to showcase their wares.

To me the London Olympics a muscle flexing exercise, but not that of the Olympic athlete, whose power and physical prowess is to be overshadowed by the state’s display of weaponry, a hijack of the state’s security apparatus as a projection of power - a display of machismo.  

We should ask who the Olympics are for?  As I pointed out earlier promises of benefits to local kids have proved hollow.  In fact just about every promise and statement made about the Olympics is a lie, the most impressive lies being embedded in ludicrous phrases such as the “Greenest Olympics Ever”, and the “Most Inclusive Olympics Ever”. But there is one place where the spotlight of truth shines on the Olympic project, unequivocally demonstrating who London 2012 is for.  That place is the VIPs lanes.  While ordinary people endure traffic chaos, and will receive automatic £130 fines for entering these lanes, VIPs will be seamlessly transported between their 5 star west London Hotels and the VIP enclosure in the Olympic Park, their BMW cars fitted with gadgets which will turn traffic lights green.   To ensure the VIPs feel at ease a clause in the Host City Contract states that the their chauffeurs will be required to wear hats - the green light red carpet treatment.

London Takes Gold is a reaction to my Olympic experience.  I hope you enjoy it.  It is my second film.  It is the first film I have both filmed and edited.  It is shot on a smart phone.  

Monday 11 June 2012

Corporate Britain: Parliamentary Rules Not Fit For Purpose

The rules that MPs and Lords are legally obliged to abide by, have failed to prevent the corporate takeover of our politics, leaving our democracy in a parlous state. 

When it was revealed earlier this year that there had been a corporate healthcare takeover of our Lords, the research also highlighted a loop-hole in the rules that fail to prevent Lords and MPs from voting when they have a prejudicial interest. This weakness in the rules, allows companies to attach themselves to our Parliamentarians, providing them with vital access to our elected decision-makers. 

There are several advantages to having an MP or Lord on a company's books, such as they can vote on bills passing through parliament that may benefit their company, receive the latest information on government thinking, giving them an advantage over their peerless competitors, and potentially influence policy. As this article explores, the companies acquiring our politicians recognise the benefits, so why don't the rules?

Take the well established PR agency, Weber Shandwick. They acquired Conservative MP, Priti Patel onto their team when it was established she would be the official Conservative candidate to run for Witham in Essex. At the time, Weber Shandwick UK CEO, and Labour’s former Chief Press Officer, Colin Byrne, said: Priti is one of the brightest young political stars of her generation…Priti is a great hire for us, powerfully connected within Cameron’s Conservatives.’ Essentially, openly admitting our public servant is benefitting the private company she works for through her connections in power.

Former Olympian Lord Coe is also useful to his bosses. He is a non-executive director of data-management software company Amt-Sybex, having joined them in February 2011. The Executive team page highlights the benefits of having the former Olympian on their team stating: ‘Lord Coe’s involvement with the 2012 Olympics – one of the largest UK infrastructure projects in recent memory – provides a natural fit with the AMT-SYBEX client base in the essential industries. Prior to Mr Coe, they had William Hague as their parliamentarian link, and Steve Norris the former Conservative Mayoral candidate is their chairman.

To be ahead of the game on government policy can make the difference between success and failure for companies chasing the same clientele. Huntsworth Health, are a company in the group Huntsworth plc, which is run by Conservative Peer Lord Chadlington. Not only do they have Lord Chadlington as their CEO, but up until last year, they also had Lord Puttnam as a Director, and from 2001-03 Baroness Cumberlege was one of their non-executive directors. Francis Maude was a director of Huntsworth in 2005, following a merger with Incepta Group plc, this is clearly a company in the loop, and able to keep in touch with government thinking. Back in April 2010, Fiona Bride, the director of ‘market access’ at Huntsworth Health, chaired a meeting of pharmaceutical, and healthcare communication companies on the subject of the ‘central role of commissioning in the NHS.’ The meeting took place two months before Andrew Lansley had released the white paper (Liberating the NHS), which since developed into the much maligned Health and Social Care Act, in which commissioning is a central plank of the new legislation.

Further evidence that business sees the benefit of an MP working for them, comes in the form of Ellwood and Atfield, who are a high-end recruitment company. They have MP for Cities of London and Westminster, Mark Field, as a board Advisor. His role includes, amongst other things ‘introducing the company to opportunities.’ The company which recruits for some public affairs positions in the NHS, announced Mr Field’s appointment like this: ‘His experience, coupled with his political position, perfectly complements Ellwood & Atfield and reinforces the company’s position as the leading recruitment firm within communications and public affairs.’

Another recruitment company financially connected to a Member of the House of Lords is Odgers Berndtson. They employ Baroness Bottomley as the Chair of the Board and CEO Practice. In an interview with the financial City paper CityAM, Richard Boggis-Rolfe the chairman of head hunter company Odgers Berndtson said 'Everyone takes her call'. Another public servant recognised as exclusively benefitting their company, by their political position.

This ‘exclusive benefit’, is important, because it is something our MPs and Lords need to abide by. However, there are loopholes, which I found out when I put in a complaint to the Lord’s Standards Commissioner over Lord Chadlington’s vote on the Health and Social Care bill earlier this year.

The rules state: ‘The “exclusive benefit” principle would mean, for instance, that a Member who was paid by a pharmaceutical company would be barred from seeking to confer benefit exclusively upon that company by parliamentary means.’ This could be done in various ways including:

• tabling a motion or an amendment to legislation;
• voting in a division;
• speaking in debate;

However, given that it is nigh on impossible to prove a vote will exclusively benefit the company for whom a Lord works, it makes sense that where there is a prejudicial interest, the vote should be prevented from happening in the first place, as at local council level. Clearly the companies, who acquire a parliamentarian on their books, see their political position as exclusively benefitting them, so why do the rules not acknowledge this? Could it be that the rules have simply not caught up with the times, or is it that they been designed to allow this behaviour to take place, which is fueling the corporatisation of our political institutions?

Such benefits are plain to see as witnessed by the fact that one in four Conservative Lords had financial interests in companies involved in private healthcare, yet, were still able to vote on the Health and Social care bill, which opens up the markets to the private healthcare sector. In other words, if the rules are there to strengthen our democracy, and prevent manipulation of power, then the rules are not fit for purpose.

Friday 8 June 2012

Private Healthcare Article roundup from Social Investigations

This is a roundup of the research articles that link the Health and Social Care Act to the public servants who are meant to represent our interests. The research has covered their connections to the private healthcare companies, and individual research of particular Lords and MPs. This is an ongoing process, which will carry on until the elections, when those Parliamentarians who voted for an expansion of privatisation into the NHS, will be held accountable.

1. The Lords - The investigation into the registered interests of the House of Lords members has revealed serious flaws in our democracy whereby Lords who have outside financial interests are allowed to vote on a bill that may benefit them. 

The investigation into the registered interests of the House of Lords members has revealed serious flaws in our democracy whereby Lords who have outside financial interests are allowed to vote on a bill that may benefit them. Full article.

Conservatives: 1 in 4 – see full list 

Liberal Democrats: 1 in 10 – see full list 

Labour: 1 in 6 – see full list 

Crossbench: 1 in 6 – see full list

2. Special Report | Selling the NHS: how parliament and the healthcare industry got cosy - examines the network of vested interests that runs between Parliament and the private healthcare industry. This cosy, toxic relationship, he warns, threatens not only the future of the NHS but that of democracy in the UK. This article appeared in Ceasefire magazine.

3. Lord Hamilton: Complaint upheld: A complaint made to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards on a Conservative Lord who failed to declare his interests has been upheld. Full article.

4. Into the heart of government: Key health group have four key members of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Health have financial links to companies involved in private healthcare, and discussions are held in private. Full article.

 5. Meet Lord Chadlington: He's about to vote on the Health and Social Care bill – Lord Chadlington has funded the Conservative party, and David Cameron’s leadership campaign. He has four Lords connected to his company, which is heavily involved in private healthcare communications. None of which, prevented him from voting on the Health and Social Care bill. Full article.

6. BBC chief Lord Patten of Barnes: Bridgepoint and the Conflicts of Interest. Lord Patten, the current head of the BBC has direct links to a company heavily involved in private healthcare. Lord Patten of Barnes is a member of the European Advisory Board for a private equity investment company called Bridgepoint. Full article.

7. Letter sent to the BBC on NHS coverage
Dear Ms Boaden.

I am writing in relation to the BBC coverage of the NHS Health and Social Care bill, that has now become an Act.

As an organisation that has huge resources, I am curious to know whether you had thought to invest time and money into uncovering some of the vested interests of our parliamentarians in private health care? Furthermore, why, when Andrew Lansley has been outed as having been bankrolled by the chairman of CareUK, was this not raised with him whenever he spoke of the bill? Surely every reasoning he gave as a justification for the bill should be linked to his healthcare financial supporters. Read full letter.

8. National Clinical Commissioning Conference Links Multiple Private Health Companies to Lords and MPs - A national conference for CCG leaders to air their ‘concerns’ over the implementation of clinical commissioning, is littered with companies who have financial links to Lords and MPs. The event, which is titled ‘Defining Our Future’, is sponsored by Capita, a private company winning contracts for developing the CCGs. Read full article. 


9. Finalists of Private Healthcare Award Ceremony raise glasses with Lords and MPs: An annual award ceremony, promoting the ‘excellence’ and ‘innovation’ of the independent healthcare sector is taking place in London, Thursday, the 31st of May. However, on close inspection, the finalists of this year’s event are notable for their connections to our so-called public servants, many of whom played some part in passing the Health and Social Care bill into an Act. Read Full article.

10. I keep saying ‘we’, but I’m not really part of the industry anymore, but I still feel it.’ When is an MP a spokesperson for big business, and when is big business an MP? If you can’t tell the difference, then you’re not alone, because some MPs are not so sure themselves. Read full article.

11. Baroness who ran private business interests from Lord Office positions her company to gain from NHS reforms: Baroness Cumberlege, one of the 141 peers exposed as having financial links to companies involved in private healthcare put her company into a position whereby it could make money from the reforms as she debated them in the House of Lords. Read full article.

12. Russia Today: Wealthcare: A bill restructuring the UK health service has been passed by parliament in spite of mass protests against the controversial reforms. Opposition accuses MPs of pandering to private interests, signing the death warrant of free healthcare in the UK.

And the 2012 Winners of the Healthinvestors Awards Were?

The Healthinvestor Awards 2012 have come and gone, and the results are in, so I thought I would match the winners to Lords and MPs to bring closure for now to this particular section of self-interest.

You may remember an article last week, which highlighted how several of the 2011 winners were attached to companies who have a Parliamentarian on their payroll, and who voted in favour for the Health and Social Care bill, helping it pass into Act. If you missed the article, then please read it here.

Now, the 2012 Awards have passed, and companies with MPs and Lords on their books, were heavily listed amongst the finalists with a chance to win an award.  The question was, would any of those companies win, and if so which of our so-called public servants would be raising a glass to their company’s victory?

The event, took place at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane, and as the dinner jacket guests arrived, they were greeted by a collection of protesters offering an alternative title for their evening event, the’ bloodsuckers awards’. Guests lowered their heads as they walked by, before heading into the ceremony.

So onto the winners:

Transactional Consultant of the year went to KPMG, who have Lord Harris of Haringey as their connection to power, who is a senior advisor to the accounting giant. Lord Hastings will also be celebrating, in his role as Global head of Citizenship and Diversity, and maybe former MP Charles Clarke who was a consultant back in 2008.

KPMG are heavily involved in the development of the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), and companies in the KPMG partnership for the CCGs also have links to parliamentarians. UK law firm Morgan Cole, have Conservative MEP Ashley Fox as their connection, who was an Associate to the company until 2009 when he was elected to the European Parliament. In addition, I.T. company McKesson Information Solutions Ltd, have Lord Carter as their chairman. The Labour Peer is also the chairman of the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP), a conflict of interest, which in a statement made by McKesson to the Guardian is avoided because he: "steps down from any investigation where there is potential conflict of interest.” 

Finally, let us not forget what KPMG’s global head of health, Mark Britnell famously said in 2010, while discussing reforms to a private healthcare conference: “In future, The NHS will be a state insurance provider not a state deliverer”, and that “The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.”

Santander won the lessors of the year, which will do Lord Elystan’s shares no harm, and the same will go for Lord Hollick, who has shares in ‘private hospital group of the year’ winners, HCA International, the largest operator of healthcare facilities in the US.

Bowmark Capital won the private equity investor of the year, securing Lord Powell of Bayswater in his job as chairman of the advisory board for the time being no doubt.

Tunstall Healthcare & Bridgwater Community Healthcare NHS Trust, won the Telehealth/Telecare award. Tunstall were bought out by Charterhouse development Capital Ltd in 2008 for £510 million. The investment company have Lord Patten (not the BBC one), as a senior advisor.

Winners of the residential Care provider of the year went to Barchester Healthcare. Baroness Ford is the chairman of the care provider, which has more than 200 care homes in the UK with 10,000 residents and 15,000 staff. Barchester recently appointed Goldman Sachs to refinance, insisting the new debt will not lead to a situation like that, which happened to Southern Cross.

All of which leaves us with the final award going to the CEO of Barchester Health, Mike Parsons, who won the ‘outstanding contribution by an individual’. In December 2011, Mike was voted the second most influential person in Healthcare in the UK at the HealthInvestor Power fifty awards, which commends those demonstrating ‘outstanding leadership with the power to guide and shape the healthcare agenda.’ Indeed Mr Parson’s is delighted with the changes to the NHS, stating: ‘All the reforms and changes with the NHS are making it a lot easier to recruit nurses from the NHS now.”

So there we have it, we can all celebrate the outstanding achievements of the private healthcare companies, and not least of all our public servants on their companies success.

Hip Hip pffffft…

Thursday 7 June 2012

Chris Skidmore states he will defend NHS in abolition panel discussion, but will he?

Abolishing the NHS is a provocative turn of phrase, and one that would not pass the lips of any Conservative politician in public, even if that is their ultimate intent. Yet, a Conservative MP is attending an evening panel discussion today June 13th, with that very theme: ‘Should we abolish the NHS?’

The discussion, will be hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs, (IEA) as part of their ‘big steps to a smaller state series.’ The IEA, is a free market think tank, and have already made their feelings on the NHS clear, in an article written by their deputy editorial Director Richard Wellings, titled: ‘How to abolish the NHS.’ The article, published in January this year, bemoans the ‘strong support’ that the public has for the NHS, and suggests that the powers that be ‘bypass the NHS by liberating the private healthcare sector so that the NHS became less and less relevant as more and more people opted out of state provision to avoid long waiting lists and substandard care.’


Leading the debate will be 5 panelists all of whom come from a position of supporting Andrew Lansley’s Health & Social Care bill, which is now an Act.

Panelist No1, is Dr Stephen Davies, who is the Education Director at the IEA. He has spoken widely on the benefits of privatisation in the NHS, including on BBC One’s the Big Questions, in February this year, explaining the ‘advantages’ of healthcare ‘liberalisation’. According to the IEA website, he claimed more commercialism in healthcare provision means ‘greater control over costs’ and that profit incentives lead to more efficient use of resources.’ The BBC has come under fire for their lack of coverage and challenging on the NHS and MPs vested interests, and they didn’t disappoint here, failing to demand the evidence to back up Dr Davies’s claims.

Panelist No2 is Professor Julian Le Grand of the London School of economics, and is also a fan of the bill, having spoken widely in favour of the changes. In a letter to the Guardian, in February this year, Mr Le Grand, stated: ‘With respect to the NHS bill, it is important that even those who generally prefer to rely upon their intuitions should avoid muddying the waters by accusing the bill of doing things that it does not, like privatising the NHS.’ The professor must be horrified then, when he sees companies like Serco becoming the single bidder for NHS support services, and the private companies controlling the CCG development process.

Panelist No3, is Mathew Sinclair, the Director of the right-wing, lower tax campaign group, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA). ‘Britain’s non-partisan’ and ‘independent’ tax lobby group were the author’s of a 2008 report titled, ‘Wasting Lives’, in which it states the priority the government should place on private involvement in healthcare: ‘Perhaps the most important priority for reform of British healthcare is to increase the amount of competition within the health service.’  The TPA are consistently cited in newspapers, highlighting negative efficiency in the NHS, offering competition as the solution. For more of the TPA, view Spinwatch powerbase page here.

Panelist No4 is Julia Manning, the Chief Executive of another self-proclaimed ‘independent’ think tank, called 2020health. However one look at their list of patrons quickly reveals what side of the healthcare fence they are on. In total, they have 4 patrons, all Peers from the House of Lords, and all with financial links to companies involved in private healthcare. In one case, one of the Peers, Baroness Cumberlege, put her company into an alliance led by accountant giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers, who were winning bids to develop the new Clinical Commissioning Groups before the Act had been passed.

Just in case you have any lingering doubts about their independence on NHS matters, then a blog article in the Daily Mail written by the think tank’s Chief Executive Julia Manning, should dispel any of those thoughts. The article titled: ‘Andrew Lansley must spell out the importance of private enterprise to the NHS’, tells us how ‘a significant problem for the economy is that confidence for investors in healthcare in the UK is being massively damaged both by the short-sighted, protectionist opposition to competition that is being driven by the health unions…The NHS has a track record of making flawed policy work, and it wouldn’t be where it is today without competition and private investment.’

Public servant Chris Skidmore

We can be grateful at least that panelist No5 is a public servant, who by definition will be standing up for the people and their NHS. In fact, that’s exactly what Chris Skidmore the MP for Kingswood told me via a Twitter on my account. He replied in response to a request I put asking someone in his constituency to contact him to see if, ‘he wants NHS abolished?’ His response was reassuring: ‘I will be defending NHS during debate and its vital principle of free at point of use regardless ability to pay’.

Given the other panelists in attendance someone will need to; however, I question his authenticity. After all, Mr Skidmore voted for the Health and Social Care bill, which included an increase of up to 49% of NHS hospital bed and theatre time being given to private patients. On a personal level, he received a payment of £3,500 for 4 hours work - giving speeches to STAC Consultancy which specialises in the launch of pharmaceutical products, strategic branding and medical education. Chris Skidmore's family also owns a company called Skidmore Medical, which appears to be solely selling a physiologic Vascular testing equipment. The company made a donation to him of £7,500 in June 2010.

Mr Skidmore often cites former New Labour MP and secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, for his support of reforms, as a way of suggesting other Labour MPs and in particular current shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, are opposing the reforms for the sake of it. What he never mentions, are the connections Alan Milburn has in private healthcare.
In 2008 his registered interests included being a member of Lloydspharmacy's Healthcare Advisory panel for which he was paid in the region of £30,000. In addition, Mr Milburn was a member of the European Advisory Board of Bridgepoint Capital Limited, the private equity firm which acquired Care UK, whose chairman John Nash bankrolled Andrew Lansley’s office just prior to the takeover. Mr Milburn, is hardly a flag-waver for a public sector NHS.

The changes imposed by the Health and Social Care Act, which had no mandate from either of the coalition parties, not only weakens our democracy, but speaks volumes about the attitude of today’s politicians. Sidling up to Murdoch, abusing their expenses, has done nothing to humble them. Now we are told the increase in private healthcare is necessary for the NHS to survive, and now Chris Skidmore is attending a panel discussion loaded with pro-reform panelists, where the debate is whether to abolish the NHS.

Do you believe Chris Skidmore will stand up for the NHS as he says he will?

Quotes on the bill: "One of the best bits about the Bill for me was the element of Any Qualified Provider"

Watch this space…

Wednesday 6 June 2012

2020health Patrons and their vested interests

2020health claims to be an 'independent', think tank. It isn't. In total, they have 4 patrons, all Peers from the House of Lords, and all with financial links to companies involved in private healthcare. In one case, one of the Peers, Baroness Cumberlege, put her company into a position to make money from the reforms before the Act had been passed.
2020Health Patrons

The Four Peers are Conservative Peer, Lord McColl, was a paid a fee as a consultant to a new private healthcare company that provides a fee-paying rival to the National Health Service’s family doctor service. Endeavour Health, which was set up by two hedge fund advisers, and claims to be Britain’s first comprehensive GP network, offering opportunities to ‘beat NHS queues’ and have appointments at any time they want.’  

Baroness Cumberlege, who will be familiar to readers of this blog, runs her own training and consultancy company called Cumberlege Connections, the Conservative Peer moved herself into an alliance led by PwC, developing the new Clinical Commissioning Groups, prior to the Health and Social care bill becoming an Act. In addition, the former health secretary is chair of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group, which holds meetings under the Chatham House rules, which means no minutes are taken, even though the quarterly meetings are attended by multiple private health companies.

Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Rennard is another patron, who is also a Director of British Healthcare Trades Association, (BHTA) a trade association set up to ensure the market for healthcare and assistive technologies is competitive, profitable and well-regulated. They work in partnership with industry, government, and other stakeholders. The Coalition Peer set up a communications company with his wife called Rennard & McTegart Ltd, and through this company they provide public affairs advice to the BHTA.

Lord Tim Clement-Jones, and Liberal Democratic Peer, is the final patron, of the ‘independent’ think tank, who is a partner in DLA Piper, a global law firm providing lobbying services to “clients in the health and social care sectors”. DLA Piper counts Southern Cross amongst its clients. Lord Clement-Jones nominated Lord Hameed for his peerage, a nomination supported by Lord Dholakia. Lord Hameed sits on the board of Alpha hospitals, part of the Alpha Healthcare (C&C Alpha/C&C business solutions) group. The Alpha group has made significant donations to the Liberal Democrat party. In 2008, Lord Clement-Jones was the party treasurer. The Times exposed Lord Clement-Jones as being the man who nominated Lord Hameed, after the peer had originally said he had 'no idea.'

Just in case you were in any doubt about the independence of 2020health’s position on NHS matters, then a blog article in the Daily Mail written by the think tank’s Chief Executive Julia Manning, should dispel any of those thoughts. The article titled: ‘Andrew Lansley must spell out the importance of private enterprise to the NHS’, A significant problem for the economy is that confidence for investors in healthcare in the UK is being massively damaged both by the short-sighted, protectionist opposition to competition that is being driven by the health unions… The NHS has a track record of making flawed policy work, and it wouldn’t be where it is today without competition and private investment.’ Andrew Lansley is a fan, endorsing the website with this quote: 2020health '"Providing valuable impact on policy."

Finally; former 2020Health Chairman, Tom Sackville – a former Conservative minister – is the current CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, which represents one hundred private health insurance companies in 31 countries. Not only this, they also have a hidden membership list, which I have suggested contains health insurance companies. They haven't denied this and despite repeated requests for them to publish their members, they have not.

'Independent' eh!