Health advertisement speaks for itself

On 29 June the Department of Health placed an advertisement in the Official Journal of the European Union inviting private companies to give their views on how they would run Primary Care Trusts (PCT). This was an open invitation to multinationals to manage services worth up to £64 billion.

Faced with outrage from health professionals and union reps, ministers initially defended the policy, then backtracked and withdrew the advertisement to correct a ‘drafting error’. It finally emerged that the only real error was that the advertisement should not have appeared before ministers had announced the policy.

Commissioning treatments and services is currently the responsibility of local NHS managers employed by PCTs. PCTs control about 80% of the NHS budget in England. A recent report showed that nine of the 32 foundation trusts had concerns as to whether their local PCT would pay for work done and are budgeting for a deficit.

Under the new system, the PCTs would contract out the commissioning to multinational companies. Contenders include the US companies United Health and Kaiser Permanente, British insurers such as BUPA and PPP, and United Health Europe. The president of United Health Europe is Simon Stevens, a former health adviser to Blair.

The advert said the NHS was making a ‘step change from a service provider to a commissioning-led organisation’. PCTs would be able to contract out procurement, financial management and human resources.

Patricia Hewitt was forced to state that: ‘there is no question whatsoever of privatising the NHS’ but former health secretary Frank Dobson was blunter: ‘It is about putting multinational companies in the driving seat of the NHS’. In January, North Eastern Derbyshire PCT invited United Health Europe to run two general practices. In May Barking and Dagenham PCT signed a £5 million contract with Care UK to provide GP services for over 7,000 people. m
Hannah Caller

FRFI 192 August / September 2006


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