The Tories are Privatising the NHS by Stealth - They are not even hiding it!

The transfer of one of the biggest GP practices into the hands of US health insurer represents a major blow to the independence of the NHS.

Credit: Bywire News, Canva
Credit: Bywire News, Canva

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LONDON (Bywire News) - Another week and another chunk of the NHS falls into private hands. The announcement that GP practices covering half a million patients is falling into the hands of one of the biggest and badest health insurers in the US is seen as proof by many that the NHS Tory privatisation by stealth scandal is well underway.  

The merger of AT Medics which had been set up in 2004 by six GPs with Operose Health will create the largest private supplier of GP services in the UK with 58 practices covering more than 500,000 patients. 

Critics are outraged by what they say is the undemocratic take over of NHS services. Doctors, campaigners and academics have voiced their concerns in a letter sent this week to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, asking him to order an investigation by the Care Quality Commission.

To them, and other critics, this is a perfect example of privatisation by stealth. The move was approved very quietly with a virtual meeting on the December 17th which lasted just nine minutes with not a single question asked.

Assurances given in the meeting that there would be ‘no change to the board of directors’, quickly turned out to be false as all ten resigned on the 10th of February.  

In their letter the campaigners wrote: “Most of the CCGs have published nothing about this significant change, and held no meetings in public … This matter is an example of the privatisation of the NHS by stealth to which we have consistently drawn attention, and which you have, equally consistently, dismissed.”

US takeover

The identity of the new owners is also a cause for concern. Operose Health is a subsidiary of US insurance giant Centene Corporation. Their history gives us a glimpse at what life might be like if the US health giants get their teeth into the NHS. 

In 2018 people who had bought policies from Centene sued, claiming it does not provide adequate coverage across 15 States. Centene was accused of misrepresenting the extent of their coverage, leaving many of their customers struggling to find a doctor who would accept patients covered by Centene. Another lawsuit brought by investors claims the company hid a $900 million tax liability.  

This is the vision of the new privatised healthcare that many feel the government secretly wants to bring to the UK. It’s a world of higher drug prices, profit before health and in which patients come last. 

Many refuse to believe what’s happening before their own eyes. Writing in the Health Service Journal the chair of the right wing think tank Centre for Policies Study, Robert Colville, claimed the Tories would not be ‘stupid enough’ to try and privatise the NHS. 

“Even if current Conservative MPs were that ideological, they’re just not that stupid as to say ‘let’s take the NHS — the public service that the public consistently say they love the most, and which is the spending priority for 80 per cent of them — and spit in the public’s faces by privatising it, and then ask to be re-elected in five years’ time.”

He is right, to a point. The Tories are not that stupid. They know how cherished the NHS is, and how toxic the idea of privatisation has become. No politician would come out and say, ‘we need more privatisation’, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ideological enough to push for privatisation. 

Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and other Tory big hitters maintain close links to organisations which are vocal about the need to privatise the NHS. Raab has contributed to a pamphlet which called for the privatisation of the NHS. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has received a total of £32,000 in donation from Neil Record who heads the board at controversial right wing think tank the ‘Institute for Economic Affairs’. Record has strongly argued in favour of privatisation in the past. 

Anyone who is against it, he says, is actually against patient choice.

So, yes, they are ideological enough to want to privatise the NHS. But no, they are not going to say so openly. 

Roadmap to privatisation

Instead, they adopt a two-pronged strategy. The first is to carve it off piece by piece, they have been doing this for years. In 2019 £9.2bn of your money was spent on private companies such as Care UK and Virgin Care. The Kings Fund estimates that, including primary care, 25% of NHS spending goes to the public sector. Over the space of five years £15bn pounds was handed over in contracts to private companies. 

In 2019, a new trend emerged as the NHS began selling off its data to corporations such as Amazon who were then contracted to provide digital health services. Tech company, Babylon, is a health app providing automated health advice and the chance to video conference with a doctor. However, doctors warned that the advice given by the apps automated bot is often wrong. 

The pandemic has seen the process ramp right up even more. More companies have been given access to the health service’s treasure trove of medical data including Palantir, a controversial firm run by a close ally of President Trump with direct links to the CIA, and Faculty, the UK data firm headed up by a close friend of Dominic Cummings. 

Despite initial assurances that firms would not be allowed to profit from the data, Open Democracy unearthed documents which confirmed they would. The government’s previous assurances were, to the surprise of nobody, misleading. 

Close links

The Government and private health sector have become inextricably linked. The heads of major firms such as CareUK have donated generously to Tory coffers. They expect a good return on their investment and they get it. 

Matt Hancock received £460,000 from a private healthcare contractor who has now been made head of NHS Improvements. Donor and former Treasurer Lord Ashcroft, meanwhile, has links to Medacs Healthcare PLC which won a £350 million contract to provide lab staff for COVID 19 testing.

Strategy two 

The second part of the strategy involves defunding the health service. The government has also been doing this for years. Under Cameron, funding dried to a trickle. Before long, a gaping black hole was opening up in the NHS finances. 

Services are suffering. A demoralised and underpaid staff find themselves having to leave in search of a decent pay packet. Shocking recent figures show that as many as two thirds plan to quit after the pandemic. 

A decade of underfunding had inevitable impacts. With almost 130,000 people dead and counting, the UK has the highest death rate per head of the population of any country in the world. 

What’s more shocking is that all this may be intentional. In 2018, senior doctors at the BMA passed a motion condemning the government for purposefully under funding the NHS in order to accelerate privatisation. The government dismissed the accusation, but the facts are undeniable. 

The end game is to create a crisis in which private capital seems like the only solution. By expanding the scope of private sector involvement, they have normalised the situation to the point where it will only take a small nudge to push it over the top.

Former Prime Minister John Major put it best when he warned the NHS is as safe in the hands of the Tories as ‘a pet hamster with a hungry python.’ 


(Writen by Tom Cropper and Michael O'Sullvian)


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