Created: Thursday, 21 April 2016 12:45
Written by Rachel Francis
‘We are all trapped in a marvellously pure ideology, the ideal socialist dream.’ So said Tory peer Baroness Cumberlege in 2000 of the NHS, as she advocated for an injection of private companies, competition and profit-making to improve ‘freedom of choice’. Cumberlege is the ‘independent’ chair of the 2016 NHS Maternity Review ‘Better Births’, and it seems her interests remain the same. The review recognises some maternity service problems, but offers a solution which would pave the way to further undermining of free, accessible, universal care.
In 2000, Cumberlege argued against the NHS remaining free at the point of use for all, calling for an NHS insurance premium and private insurance. In 2001 she set up Cumberlege Connections, now Cumberlege Eden & Partners, to deliver training to NHS and private provider staff about health sector ‘development’, including a course on ‘politics, power and persuasion’. Whilst profiting from this venture, in 2012 she voted for the Health and Social Care Act, legislation which furthers private interests in the NHS. Her company’s partnership with the PricewaterhouseCooper Alliance, set up to bid for new contracts to develop Clinical Commissioning Groups (CGCs), put them in a position to profit directly from the law she voted for.1
Cumberlege has had a long relationship to maternity services, chairing ‘Changing Childbirth’ in 1993. The latest maternity review aims ostensibly to make care for women and babies safer and more personalised. It recognises that women generally want a familiar midwife to care for them, that women and health professionals should work in partnership and that longer appointments are needed for better care. None of this is new – the arguments for continuity of care have long existed with excellent evidence. The care already exists to a limited extent within the NHS, and has shown improvements to health outcomes and equity. However, rather than call for more resources to develop this care within the NHS, the report has its own proposal – a new system of funding incorporating personalised budgets. ‘NHS Personal Maternity Care Budgets’ would give women £3,000 to ‘spend’ on a provider of their choice, covering antenatal, labour and postnatal care. The details are still vague and funding for complex cases is yet to be worked out; a trial is proposed for 2016-17, with certain service providers to be approved by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
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