The privatising cabal at the heart of our NHS

The privatising cabal at the heart of our NHS
Our NHS, By Tamasin Cave

This isn’t a National Health Service – or even a healthcare market. It’s a cabal – and it looks something like this.


 The battle is on for the future of the NHS. Apparently.


 Ed Miliband came out hard, declaring he will ‘put patients before profits and stop the privatisation’.


 David Cameron’s camp countered with a commitment to fully fund the next wave of NHS reforms.


 Like pro-wrestling, it’s a good show, but a phony fight.


 How can you tell?


 Just look at the players sitting round the table.


 Let’s start with former Labour Health Minister and arch-reformer, Alan Milburn, a man who has since made a personal fortune from working with private health firms.


 When Milburn was in charge of the NHS from 1999 to 2003 he pushed through many of the ‘reforms’ that the Conservative party have merely accelerated. His team at the time consisted of policy advisor Simon Stevens; private secretary Tony Sampson; and media advisor, Andrew Harrison.


 Where are they now?


 Simon Stevens’ journey is well known. He left the NHS in 2004 and spent a decade learning how the American’s do healthcare at US giant, UnitedHealth (at first Stevens was put on selling UnitedHealth services to European health systems, then became Vice President and lobbyist for the whole UH Group). Stevens was described in the Financial Times as “a key architect, along with Mr Milburn and Mr Blair – to whom he went on to serve as health adviser – of the reforms that for the first time broke up the NHS monolith, introducing privately run treatment centres.”


 In 2014 Stevens returned to the UK to share his wisdom as Chief Executive Officer of the NHS. He is the man currently running the show.


 Maybe less well-known is that Milburn’s private secretary, Tony Sampson, was also drawn to UnitedHealth. From 2005 to 2013, Steven’s former close colleague was UnitedHealth’s chief lobbyist in the UK.


 What’s hardly known at all is that Milburn’s other aide, Andrew Harrison, has also long been in the employ of UnitedHealth. Harrison is head of health at lobbying firm Hanover, which has lobbied for UnitedHealth since at least 2007.


 So, that’s the whole team – Stevens, Sampson, and Harrison – all lobbying for UnitedHealth for the best part of a decade.


 And today we’re surprised that UnitedHealth is in line to pick up billion pound NHS contracts?


 Milburn’s seat also opens up the table for venture capitalists Bridgepoint. Bridgepoint has investments in Care UK, which calls itself ‘the UK’s largest independent provider of health and social care’. From its care home roots, Care UK now runs over 50 NHS services, and has been bidding for huge contracts.


 Care UK also bagged Jim Easton, one of a handful of senior health officials to push through the Coalition’s controversial reforms, and designer of the troubled 111 helpline contract (which continues to be criticised for poorly trained staff). Weeks after Easton joined Care UK, they bought up Harmoni – the firm that had beaten them to be the main private 111 provider. Following the withdrawal of NHS Direct who said the prices set out in the contract were ‘unsustainably’ low, Care UK are now the key player in this particular out of hours healthcare ‘market’.


 Bridgepoint also have investments in telehealth provider, Tunstall, which is already starting to cash in on reforms that move care ‘closer to home’. And in Alliance Medical, a private firm providing scanning services (that has also employed lobbyists Hanover for years).  


 Milburn also helps out PwC, which claims to have ‘acted on more privatisations than any other financial adviser’. It is currently advising local NHS commissioners on how to reform health services, and pushing the case for the use of more technology in healthcare.


 This isn’t a competition. It isn’t even a healthcare market.


 Its a cabal. And it looks something like this.


 So, where are Miliband and Cameron in the picture?


 Dancing wildly in front of you and me.


For more from Our NHS see here.