IT SPEAKS volumes for politicians’ awareness of public hostility to privateers milking the NHS that Theresa May blames Labour for increased privatisation rather than championing the private sector openly.
“You talk about outsourcing of services in the NHS. The party that actually put greater privatisation into the NHS was not this party. It was the Labour Party,” May told Labour MP Paula Sherriff.
Sadly, what the Prime Minister said was factually correct, but she dodged the real meat of Sherriff’s contribution.
Not only was it the late unlamented Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government that tendered the West Yorkshire NHS Dermatology Service to Virgin Care but the new private operator is doubling its income by compelling patients to make additional consultations before surgery.
Why did May not reply to Sherriff’s main allegation that this practice was boosting Virgin Care profits “at the expense of the taxpayer and patient safety” rather than quibbling over which party is most to blame for private penetration of our NHS?
She could have undertaken to investigate whether Virgin Care does indeed engage in unethical but quite profitable customs. Her failure to do so raises suspicions that she isn’t disturbed by cash being leached from the NHS by sharp practice.
Virgin Care is one of a number of private healthcare providers benefiting from lucrative NHS deals that have tax havens at the heart of their corporate structure.
It pays no tax in Britain as a result of declaring no profits after administrative expenses.
Virgin Care is also unlikely to pay tax in future because of its structure, taking loans from a holding company, the future repayment of which will be deductible against corporation tax whenever profits are declared. Its contracts with the NHS bring in income of hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of its operation, according to its website last year, of 230 NHS and social care services with 5,500 employees.
The scale of private-sector penetration of the NHS ought to shame those politicians who have whittled away at its public-sector ethos.
New Labour made much of the public finance it invested in the NHS, together with education, transport, infrastructure and other areas. Increased numbers of health professionals were a positive outcome of this investment, as were new state-of-the-art facilities that replaced often run-down and dilapidated buildings.
However, then chancellor Gordon Brown’s insistence on public-private partnerships (PPP) and reliance on private finance initiatives (PFI) were both disastrous for public health. The Tory PFI mechanism that he adopted was intended to get around European Union strictures on government borrowing, but it proved a financial disaster, with dozens of NHS trusts driven into debt and facing decades of payments to private consortiums.
PPP schemes were supposed to share responsibility between the public and private sector, but the public bore liability while the private cornered the profits. May’s throwaway line that such decisions are for local commissioners reveals that, as far as the Tories are concerned, the private sector can continue to gorge itself on public finance.
They see nothing wrong with Virgin boss Richard Branson sitting in his luxurious home in a Caribbean tax haven as taxpayers enrich his companies and he pays no income tax.
Emergency services funded by our taxes are on hand to protect his companies while he and his ilk feel no obligation to pay their share.
This emphasises the need to not only eradicate private firms’ unethical practices from the NHS but to extend public ownership and accountability.