Mike Campbell of Protect Our NHS reveals the deals that see a company in Bristol and a Bristol MP doing well out of NHS sell offs.
Who is Care UK and why does it matter to Bristol?
Due to the nature of the annual block contract between Care UK and the NHS Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, the Emerson’s Green private treatment centre has received millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that have not been used.
Care UK is one of the largest private health and social care providers in the UK. The company runs independent sector treatment centres (ISTCs) – essentially private hospitals – at Emersons Green, Devizes and Shepton Mallet where minor elective surgeries are carried out for the NHS. The introduction of ISTCs in 2003 represented a key step towards the commercialism that is now transforming the NHS at an alarming rate.
Clinical Commissioning Group papers in October reveal a cumulative under-spend over the last two and a half years of over £7 million. This is money paid to Care UK, according to local campaign group Protect Our NHS, essentially for ‘doing nothing’. Local NHS campaigners will, in November, be meeting CCG executives to discuss their concerns about this contract, as it is due to be re-commissioned next year.
In 2013 the campaign group wrote to Care UK’s Chief Executive, Mike Parrish, asking him, in the interests of Bristol patients and the NHS, whether his company would return the £2.7 million that had been under-utilised in 2012/13. No reply was received.
The big picture
The NHS budget has, in effect, been cut by £20 billion. Three-quarters of hospitals face a financial crisis and Accident and Emergency services are struggling to cope. At the same time, numerous services are being outsourced to private companies for profit. Over £10bn of NHS funding has been used to purchase healthcare in the past year from private and independent providers such as Virgin and Care UK. This sum is rising by £1 billion per year.
Despite election promises by David Cameron that there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, up to £3 billion has been spent on a top-down reorganisation of the health service, with private companies continuing to bid for huge NHS contracts. These changes were never part of any party manifesto.
The Health and Social Care Act of 2012 paved the way for the privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS).
One of the strongest criticisms of the Act is that it is bringing the National Health Service into a US-style health care market. Moving to a US model of healthcare would have a significant impact on low-income individuals and be disastrous for health outcomes. In the largely privatised American health system expenditure per person is around 2½ times that of the NHS yet its general outcomes are worse than in the UK.
Politicians, profit and the NHS
Recent research by Unite shows that since 2012, £1.5 billion has gone from the NHS to 15 private companies with links to 24 Tory MPs and Lords (including Kingswood MP, Chris Skidmore), who were all able to vote for the Health and Social Care Act.
Over 200 parliamentarians with financial links to companies involved in healthcare, and therefore a direct financial interest in NHS privatisation, were allowed to vote on these ‘reforms’, which became the Act plunging the NHS into a world of competition and corporate asset acquisition.
John Nash, co-founder of Care UK, and his wife have reportedly donated £300,000 to the Conservative party over five years including £21,000 to the personal office of the former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. In Bristol, Chris Skidmore received, according to the parliamentary register of interests, £5,000 for his office in the run up to the election in 2010 from Caroline Nash, the wife of John Nash. Lord Nash is now a government minister. Chris Skidmore has not replied to our request for comment two weeks preceding publication of this article.
Care UK also reduces its tax liabilities using off-shore tax havens, i.e. tax avoidance. According to The Guardian, its latest accounts show that public funds accounted for 88% of the company’s revenues in the year ending September 2013. Yet it admits to using “tax-efficient” financial structures involving the Channel Islands. Its sister company, Silver Sea, is domiciled in low-tax Luxembourg. Furthermore Care UK has not paid any corporation tax since it was bought by private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital in 2010.
Companies like Care UK are also accused of profiteering by driving down working conditions and reducing wages to ensure there are profit margins on the contracts they take over from the NHS.
In Doncaster, more than 60 carers for disabled people have held over 90 days of strikes after care workers saw conditions of service reduced and wages cut by up to 35% under Care UK.
In November they celebrated a victory which could prove a major development in the social care sector. Following the Observer’s front page report on the strike, Care UK has offered all staff an immediate 2% pay rise.
Dave Honeybone, one of the strikers who visited Bristol earlier in the year to build support for the strike, told The Bristol Cable, “we were not only taking strike action against Care UK’s efforts to reduce our pay and conditions of service, but were fighting for the very existence of the NHS and the vital services it provides to the most vulnerable people in society. But we should be in no doubt that Care UK’s commitment is to make a profit from its health business and we will continue the wider fight to oppose the privatisation of the NHS”.
In November it was announced that five bidders, including Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Care Ltd, have been shortlisted to take over cancer care services, while seven companies, again including Virgin Care Ltd, are in the running for end-of-life services. This is an NHS privatisation deal worth more than £1.2 billion. The deal would see the private sector delivering all cancer and end-of-life treatment for all children and adults across Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent.
There is a nationwide campaign for the Health and Social Care Act to be repealed. The Times has reported that senior Tories admit the NHS reforms have been a mistake.
In Bristol a vigorous campaign to fight NHS privatisation is being led by activists involved in campaign group, Protect our NHS (ProNHS). At the general election they will be holding to account local MPs who voted for the Health and Social Care Act.
Its now up to Bristol voters to ask this question of all candidates at the election: how safe is our NHS in your hands?
ProNHS grew out of a petition set up by the online campaigning 38 Degrees in 2012. This was born of concern about the growing privatisation of the NHS and fears that the 2012 Health and Social Care Act would open up the NHS to full privatisation. The petition – opposing NHS privatisation – received almost 8,000 signatures from people across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Linking up with members of the national Keep Our NHS Public campaign and the Bristol and District Anti Cuts Alliance (BADACA) Health group, Protect Our NHS has grown into one of the most active groups in the country.
If The Bristol Cable readers want to get involved in protecting the NHS, some of the things they can do include telling MPs you don’t want the NHS privatised, talking to friends and family about what’s happening to the NHS, supporting Protect Our NHS, helping on us on our stalls and joining anti-TTIP protests.
Protect Our NHS
 The Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is the NHS body responsible for purchasing our local health services
 Tax avoidance is legal; tax evasion is not