Leading private health firms which stand to benefit from the government's NHS plans have set up structures to avoid paying tax, campaigners warned today.
An investigation by the group Corporate Watch into the accounts of five of the biggest corporations which lobbied in favour of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's reforms has found widespread use of tax havens.
According to the campaigners Britain's second-largest healthcare company Spire Healthcare is channelling £65 million a year through a Luxembourg subsidiary of Cinven, almost wiping out its taxable earnings in Britain.
Care UK also operates NHS treatment centres, walk-in centres and mental health services across Britain. But Corporate Watch is reducing its tax liability by routing £8m a year in interest payments on loan notes issued in the Channel Islands.
Circle Health, General Healthcare Group and Ramsay Health Care were also named and shamed by the group.
Corporate Watch admitted that what the companies had done was legal.
But a statement on the website read: "Being legal is not the same thing as being right, and the government's promises that companies can be regulated into doing a good job for the NHS are further undermined with evidence of how easily they are getting round the tax obligations that should help pay for it."
Health Emergency chairman Geoff Martin pulled no punches in his assessment of the companies and their tax avoidance measures.
"The same companies looking to bleed billions out of the NHS are up to their necks in tax avoidance scams," he said.
"These scumbags have been the cheerleaders for Lansley's Bill and the fact that they are right up the league table with the worst of the corporate filth speaks volumes about Con-Dem health policy."
The revelations will raise the temperature ahead of the latest clash in the Lords over the Health and Social Care Bill which critics claim will usher in more private-sector involvement in the NHS.
Labour will also table a motion calling for the Bill not to pass from the Lords.
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