This is my article in the Daily Telegraph explaining why Labour’s NHS claims miss the point – it’s the EU that forces health authorities to accept bids from private companies from around the world.
Jeremy Corbyn keeps telling us that “the NHS is not for sale”. It has become his mantra for this election – the problem is that he is too late!
The reality is that the NHS is already for sale, and has been for decades. EU directives and Tony Blair’s obsession with “testing the market” are to blame.
The EU’s Public Procurement Directive states clearly that any public tender over a certain amount has to be open to any company with a subsidiary in the EU. The UK government and the NHS is prohibited from demanding that a provider of services has to be based in this country.
Any contract for a service not delivered “in-house” has to go to tender, and this not only includes services for hospitals but also materials or pharmaceuticals used within the NHS. This also includes chemists, opticians and dentists, who are all independent contractors who choose to provide their services within the NHS.
The Labour Party has blamed the Tories for selling the NHS for years – this is a lie. It isn’t because of the Tories that much of the NHS has been sold off: the NHS was sold long ago because of the European Union.
The idea that a free trade agreement with the US will suddenly open up all sorts of problems with US companies suddenly taking over the NHS is a fantasy. Large parts of the NHS are already being operated by non-UK companies. Instead of making inaccurate political soundbites, Corbyn should open his eyes and realise that the ship of NHS privatisation has already sailed largely due to EU membership.
UnitedHealth Group is an American healthcare company, listed as number 6 on the Fortune 500. Optum Health Solutions (UK) Limited, is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group and have won several tenders in the UK working within the NHS on commissioning, organisation and data analysis. Private companies from around the world have had access to our NHS for years, and a US trade deal following Brexit is not going to change that.
The EU directive is very specific about the rules for any procurement for any public body in any EU member state. This means that unless Labour is proposing to nationalise all chemists, opticians and dentists, and nationalise the production of pharmaceuticals, the equipment and furniture used in the NHS – then large parts of the NHS will still be up for sale to any foreign company who wishes to bid for it.
Another Fortune 500 company with significant stake in our NHS is Centene Corporation. Through its UK subsidiary “Simplify Health” and its 75% ownership of “The Practice Group”, it provides a number of services to the NHS: running 22 GP surgeries, a walk-in centre and CAMHS – mental health services for young people in Surrey.
Another example of foreign corporations providing NHS care is Ramsay Health Care, an Australian owned company. They run a network of private hospitals and neurological units in the UK, contracted to treat NHS patients. In August 2017, they won a 7 year contract to provide spinal surgery in Dorset, a contract worth over £30 million.
The EU’s emphasis on free market, neoliberal policies was coupled with the Labour Party’s obsession with the need for ‘competitive tendering’ to try and reduce the costs of public services. Although parties of all colours have been ‘guilty’ of this, the Labour Party under Tony Blair can be seen to have catalysed the transition from a truly public service, to one open to foreign private companies. Corbyn’s brass neck in making the central tenet of his election campaign ‘not selling the NHS to Trump’ is hypocrisy and ‘fake news’ of the highest order.
One only has to look at NHS dentistry to see the overwhelming control which US companies already have. “My Dentist” is the largest single provider of NHS dentistry in the UK with over 600 dental practices and is 75% owned by a US hedge fund. This is not to say that private investment in the NHS should be portrayed as a threat to our existence, but that Corbyn’s election offer of ‘saving the NHS from foreign companies’ is inaccurate scare-mongering.
Instead of using the NHS as a political football, and demonising private companies, why doesn’t Corbyn get his facts right and address the issues? Because of the EU, and the Labour Party’s implementation of free market neoliberalism, our public services have been for sale for decades. The NHS is facing serious, fundamental problems, and by focusing on irrelevant sound-bites, the only people who lose out are the patients.