Posts tagged with Privatisation

U-Turn If You Want To…

In a shock U-turn yesterday, Sports Minister Mr Andrew Lansley removed all references to bare-fist fighting in the ‘free-fights-for-all’ Boxing Bill currently before Parliament. Earlier drafts of the Bill had allowed ‘any willing contestant’ to fight ‘with or without gloves’. Critics of the Bill, including the British Medical Association, had pointed out that the wording ‘or without gloves’ provided an opportunity for contestants to fight bare-fisted if they so wished, a practice known to increase serious injury and fatalities.

My Lansley has insisted he never envisaged bare-fist fighting. Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, he said: ‘I understand that references to ‘or without gloves’ in the Bill can be taken to mean that we want to allow bare-fist fighting. This was never the intention. I have therefore removed all references to ‘without gloves’ from the Bill.’

The announcement comes only days after Gordon Bennett, head of national fight regulator Monitor said: ‘an amount of bare-fist fighting will be appropriate’.

The Perils of Private Fog

This post is not, as it happens, about the misadventures of a trench soldier in the First World War, but is instead about the perils of language: for, if there is one word that fogs today’s NHS reform debate, it is surely privatisation. Unions, the media – only yesterday, Channel 4 reported on ‘proof’ that the ‘government plans to privatise the NHS’ (only to fog matters further by adding a terminal question mark) - and bloggers may all declare loudly that the Tories are privatising the health service. At the same time, the Tories and the DoH (and, of course, our very own Sam) say they are not. Clearly, both sides can’t be right. Or can they? It all depends on what we mean by privatisation, and that is where privatisation fog, like the recent weather, can bring progress to a grinding halt.

Would the Real GPs Please Stand Up

Monday’s Channel Four Dispatches programme featured Squeeze Esmail, a sharp professor of general practice, now turned part-time undercover Taliban operative. He lined up some stooges with a collection of red flag symptoms – so-called because they should indicate to any doctor the possibility of serious disease – and fitted them with spook-cams before sending them off to see dodgy GPs, most of whom had un-pronounceable names, and/or worked out of shady lock-up retail premises. The dodgy doctors duly obliged, failing to spot the suicide vests so visibly strapped to their patients chests. Jon Snow presented, with a mixture of knight’s move reporting and come-off-it interviews with Stilton, the chief pongo at the GMC. All in all, the programme raised some important questions, which Dr No may return to another day, but that didn’t stop the Jobbing Doctor from wailing, and hammering yet another nail into his already shattered foot on the cross.

Laughing at Democracy

After a quiet few days, there have been some yelps squeaks and barks from UK medical bloggers about the British Medical Association’s SRM (Sham Representative Meeting) called earlier this week to decide the Association’s position on the government’s proposed NHS reforms. Dr Grumble meanwhile has adopted an “I’ve been telling you for years, will you believe me now” tone under a reckless headline on the ways of parliament. Or perhaps it isn’t so reckless after all – for who knows how many tens of thousands will die unnecessarily if the Tory health reforms become reality.

The trouble with all these yelps squeaks and barks (and Dr No has been at it too) is that they are faux-outrage at what is in fact inevitable. It is the inevitable result of what many of us call democracy, but which is in fact nothing of the sort, being instead something which Dr No called Sham Dem eighteen months ago; and the thing about Sham Dem is that it is anything but democracy, by any accepted definition of the term. It is, to give it a more descriptive but less snappy name, serial, or perhaps more accurately, interval, oligarchy. If that sounds a bit technical, Dr No apologises, but hopes to make all plain.

Mary Portas: Queen of Clinic

It is a wonder they haven’t called in Mary Portas, Raptor of Retail, to fix the NHS. Nice Gerry tried a while ago, but tea and biscuits, even Nice Gerry’s 24/7 tea and biscuits, failed to hit the fan when it came to fixing the NHS. Nice Gerry’s biscuits did what biscuits do when faced with a sea of NHS tea. They got dunked - and disintegrated.

Raptor, of the other hand, would know exactly what to do. Dressed by Dallas out of Star Wars, she would stalk the wards and clinics, skewering managers. Layabout staff would be rounded up, and their nail varnish stuffed where the sun don’t shine. A wand of retail magic would be waved, dull clinics transformed in a halogen twinkle into fun interactive experiences. Freshly botoxed greeters in Thunderbird uniforms would be drafted in, and the warmth of the Mall would embrace all. Everybody would win, and all would have prizes.

Three Stabs and You’re Out

Broken Arrow is today staggering around, two daggers in his back. Earlier this week, Downing Street let it be known that there was a view that he should be ‘taken out and shot’; today, the editor of ConservativeHome has let it be known that three cabinet ministers want pretty much the same thing. That’s right: within the space of a few days, both Downing street and a bevy of cabinet ministers have let it be known: Lansley, and with him his blasted bill, must go. Other Tories, including Dodders, have been twiddling knives, but Dodders is a gentle man, and one suspects a stab in the back from him would be more Private Godfrey bear-hug than Corporal Jones bayonet.

Demographic Panic

One of the factors that is said to underpin the ‘no change is not an option’ need to reform the NHS is our ageing population, the so-called grey tsunami, or demographic time bomb. This all party political IED is sitting there, we are told, with a short and inextinguishable fuse. If we don’t do something now to counter it, then we are all, as Frazer would have put it, doomed. But are we? Captain Mainwaring and his platoon survived any number of Frazer’s doom-laden predictions.

Dr No rather suspects that this alleged time bomb is indeed more political wheeze to panic us into accepting the ‘necessity’ for ‘radical’ reform – opening up the NHS to private service providers, and inevitably in due course private funding - than reality. Let us for a moment consider some of the alleged ‘facts’.

Flat-Lining Round the Corners

Browsing the web about the latest round of Health and Social Care Bill backed pile-em-high, sell-em-higher NHS services currently out to private sector tender, Dr No chanced upon a success statement (SS) so hilarious his eyes would have popped (EWP) were it not for the fact that it came from the Orkneys, where Dr No had the privilege of spending a few weeks as a medical student with a real GP doing real medicine. The statement reads:


Snatcher Commissioning

It is fair to say that Snatcher Thatcher was and for many still is the high priestess of marketisation and privatisation, and of choice and competition, and so in the interests of brevity, Dr No will call the commissioning measures contained within the Health and Social Care Bill Snatcher Commissioning. Such a name also has the utility of high-lighting what will be one of the defining characteristics of the bill’s reforms, should they come to pass: hundreds if not thousands of private concerns all competing to snatch their share of the commissioning cake.

It is also fair to say that a bill running to hundreds of pages, and an amending bill at that, now further burdened by hundreds of amendments to the amendments, lacks clarity. It may even be that it is so complicated that it lacks internal coherence; Dr No cannot be sure, because he has yet to master the feat of holding hundreds of amendments, further amended by other amendments, in his head at one time. Nor is it any surprise, given the weight of complexity, that many, including politicians and health care staff, not to mention the public, have little concept, let alone understanding, of how Snatcher Commissioning will work in practice. And so, in the interests of shining a light into those dark recesses where the sun don’t shine, and the milk of human kindness sure don’t flow, here is Dr No’s back of the (large) envelope guide to how Snatcher Commissioning will work in practice.

Perhaps Not Optimal

Speaking on the Today programme, their business reporter did his best to put some heat into a cold December morning. ‘Despicable cartel like practices,’ he flamed, quite putting Humph and the rest of the gang in the shade, over OFT allegations that UK private healthcare providers have rigged the market. The lady from the OFT stayed cool, although she did concede that the performance of the market was ‘perhaps not optimal’. To Dr No, the turn of phrase made about as much sense as if NASA public relations had used the words to describe the performance of the space shuttle Challenger on its last fateful flight.

The OFT, Monitor’s big brother, have been investigating the £5 billion UK private healthcare market, and – provisionally – it does not like what it saw. Provisionally – no one’s sticking their neck out here – it found ‘a number of features that, individually or in combination, prevent, restrict or distort competition’ – or cartels and rigged markets to the rest of us. Private healthcare, it appears – provisionally, of course - to be not so much about stitching up patients with subcutaneous Dexon, as stitching them up financially, in a web of cartels, restrictions and misinformation. The OFT plans – provisionally, as they don’t jump guns at the OFT – to refer the market to the Competition Commission.