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He who pays the privateers' peer

Labour's Lord Warner, who wants patients to pay for NHS treatment, is on the health companies' payroll. SOLOMON HUGHES follows the money

Former Labour Health Minister Lord Warner's call for everyone to pay £10 a month fees to use the NHS got very wide press coverage.

The Mail, Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent wrote 500-odd-word stories on Warner's charge-for-the-NHS call.

The Mirror, Sun and other tabloids chipped in with 200-word pieces on Warner's fees, including his extra demand that patients pay an extra £20 a night for hospital stays.

But for all the thousands of words, not one paper reported the basic facts of the story.

We journalists are supposed to all want to be like Woodward and Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate conspiracy by following one piece of advice - "follow the money." Yet no journalist followed Lord Warner's money.

It's not as if you need to look that hard to chase this cash. Lord Warner made his call for NHS fees in what the newspapers called "a report for think tank Reform."

A quick check of the Register of Lords' Interests shows that Warner was a paid spokesman for a health firm called Synlab, which is chasing NHS contracts.

A quick check of Reform's accounts shows that it is funded by a host of NHS privatisers.

So the real story is - private health spokesman Lord Warner calls for NHS charges in pamphlet funded by private health firms.

All the private health firms want to make the NHS more like themselves - by forcing the NHS to make charges, they can blur the difference between themselves and the NHS. In this way they can either take over more of the NHS, or compete directly with the NHS . Or do both - typically health firms want to run some NHS services using taxpayers' cash, and use their position in NHS services to charge better-off patients for "extra" or "enhanced" services.

So the fact that BMI Healthcare is one of Reform's funders should have rung bells in journalists' heads. BMI runs private hospitals, but also treats NHS patients. In 2012, even Tory Health Minister Ann Milton had to attack BMI for deliberately delaying operations on its NHS patients to force them to go private. BMI has every reason to want NHS charges. Other private firms funding Reform include Serco, which runs poorly performing health services for the NHS, Sodexo, which runs privatised NHS cleaning and catering, McKesson, which runs NHS computer systems and all-purpose crap privatiser G4S.

Warner's pamphlet for Reform is quite open about creating more opportunities for the private firms that funded the publication. Warner calls for "private investment in a regenerated and stronger primary care sector." He says the government should be "debunking the myths that, somehow, competition is incompatible with integration and that public provision is always superior to private."

In a pamphlet funded by BMI Healthcare, Serco and Sodexo, Lord Warner demands people stop loving the NHS and start admiring private companies like BMI Healthcare, Serco and Sodexo instead. He recommends NHS trusts should start "income-generating activities" like "provision of private funded services not available on the NHS, revenue-generating commercial developments on hospital sites and sale of approved healthcare product."

He wants the NHS to act as a salesman for the private health industry, flogging medicines like a snake oil salesman. Most shockingly, Warner recommends "removing services from the NHS altogether." He wants to generate more income for his private health pals by, for example, stopping the NHS doing IVF, or not allowing NHS hospitals to fix botched cosmetic surgery.

In order to report this naked pro-privatisation propaganda, journalists would have to undertake the advanced investigative technique of reading the pamphlet they were writing about.

Lord Warner likes making private money from the public sector. When he was health secretary, Lord Warner commissioned a businessman called Lord Carter to review NHS pathology services. The "Carter review" recommended private firms take over hospital "path labs" .

This was disastrous for the NHS. One major 'path lab', run by Serco with Kings and St Thomas's hospital in London, has been marred by poor performance.

Worse, the Competition Commission are now investigating NHS attempts to reorganise labs.

The NHS was previously untouched by the Competition Commission, which only regulates private firms. But by involving private firms, NHS Trusts have laid themselves open to competition and monopoly rules. The NHS's traditional strength, it's co-operative, collective approach, is now open to legal challenge.

The law means that the operation of a market is more important than operations on patients.

But one person has done well out of path lab privatisation - Lord Warner. His new employer, Synlab, is a German company which wants to run NHS pathology labs. The NHS gets chaos and poor performance. Lord Warner got a job.

Like other new Labour ex-ministers including Alan Milburn, Lord Warner has a history of getting jobs with private health firms that profit from the privatisation schemes he launched in office.

That scandal, not Warner's propaganda for NHS privatisers, is the real story. But it is a story that every single national newspaper missed yet again.

 

 

After the National Audit Office showed the Royal Mail sell-off had enriched bankers and cheated the public, Ed Miliband said the "Royal Mail privatisation is becoming a symbol of a government who stand up for the privileged few while the British people pay the price."

The Labour Party said "don't let them get away with it." But does that mean Miliband's opposition is just symbolic? Or will Labour actually renationalise the Mail? Without renationalisation, they will get away with it. Renationalisation is perfectly possible.

The government still owns 30 per cent of shares. Buying back 21 per cent - an imperfect, but effective renationalisation - would cost just over £1 billion, which is doable.

Last time around Labour made a fuss about Railtrack privatisation, but when they came back into government failed to act. First passengers died, then Railtrack collapsed. So in the end Labour did renationalise, but only after disaster, and only in a way that retained an iffy "commercial" ethos.

Labour actually did several of these rescue renationalisations - British Energy, British Nuclear Fuels and the banks. These show Labour can renationalise, but also showed the party did it first to rescue then ape private capital.

Unless Labour promise to renationalise the Royal Mail as a national asset, they are really just talking loud, but saying nothing.

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