Nick Triggle, the NHS, and the Privatisation Debate

Graham Bell, 27 July 2011 | 2 Comments

Categories: NHS | Conservative Party | Politics | BBC News |

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The public outcry surrounding the News of the World phone hacking scandal provided an opportunity for those in power to implement the changes that have been in the making since the release of Andrew Lansley's White Paper, 'Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS', in July 2010. On 11th July David Cameron again pushed his “Big Society” agenda, which is promoted as a means of 'releasing the grip of state control', but in reality is little more than an attempt to lay the groundwork to open up public services to the private sector.

Nick Triggle’s BBC analysis piece on 14th July, 'Why the NHS wants to move on', like many news articles, is based on the assumption that the NHS needs to change (“No-one likes being in limbo – and the NHS is no different”). There is apparently no room for the argument that any changes need not be drastic in the news.

The proposed NHS reforms have been met with widespread opposition from nurses, doctors, unions, the general public, and many MPs. This opposition was strong enough to prompt the government’s “listening exercise”, during which members of the public could voice their concerns about the changes. As many predicted, little real “listening” was done during this period. Indeed, a YouGov poll found that 95% of the public had “no idea how to get involved” with the listening exercise.

On 19th July, a 'good day to bury bad news', as Rupert and James Murdoch appeared before a select committee of MPs, it was announced that £1bn of NHS services would be opened up to competition. Again the underlying assumption is that competition is necessarily good, and will help to increase efficiency and drive down the cost of services. This is hardly the incentive behind the push for “reform” by Cameron and the neoliberal Conservative Party. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) expressed their support for the NHS reforms in a press-release which echoed the usual rhetoric about “greater competition” and “a diverse mix of qualified providers”. The CBI offered their support to the government in May 2010, presumably on the condition that private business world received its share of the public services. In June, Dr Neil Bentley of the CBI expressed his disappointment at the failure of the government to fully implement its NHS reforms.

The talk of the government wanting to optimise the NHS, improve patient care and provide competition in the market all gives the impression that the government is doing this for the people. The results of lobbying efforts of the CBI however, perhaps demonstrate its true priorities, and the vast opportunity for investment it is offering to the private sector.

Now the package of “reforms” is being unleashed much to the disapproval of the UK general public, but to the delight of the CBI. Nick Triggle claims that 'within the health service in England, the concessions are being generally accepted as a reasonable way forward.' In reality, to give just one example (as was reported the same day in another BBC article), the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said it ‘remained "deeply concerned" at the government's determination to increase competition and diversity of providers in the NHS.’ Ignoring any such concerns, Triggles tone suggests that we should give the changes a chance, regardless of their overall effect on the service provided. An attempt to excuse any future problems that ‘may’ occur after the changes:

Waiting lists may go up at times, standards at some providers - NHS, private or voluntary sector - could be found wanting and access to services may suffer.

Such problems will probably be blamed on the reforms. But in reality in many cases it will be hard to tell whether the changes have helped or hindered performance.

In another of his articles, “The Obsession with the P word”, Triggle writes:

Predictably this [Lansley’s reform package] has been greeted with claims that it marked further privatisation of the health service, prompting the usual government denials.

As with any polarised debate, it can often be difficult to determine where the truth lies.

In reality, what constitutes ‘privatisation’ is not so difficult to pin down. As Clive Peedell of the NHS Consultants’ Association points out, ‘the World Health Organization has defined privatisation in healthcare as “a process in which non-governmental actors become increasingly involved in the financing and/or provision of healthcare services”’. Services which “remain publicly funded and free at the point of delivery” still fall under the WHO’s definition, despite the government’s protestations.

Both of Triggle's articles show support for the NHS reforms, while portraying as irrational those opposed to the changes. They dismiss entirely the issues raised by hundreds of thousands of people as they lobbied their MPs and repeatedly took to the streets of London, calling for the NHS to remain in public hands. 'Patients are getting greater choice over a host of community services', he cheers.

The NHS reform Bill removes the state responsibility for providing healthcare, and understandably, many are worried. The Royal College of nursing opposes the reforms. As do the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Midwifes, the Royal College of GPs, and the Association of Medical Research Charities. The NHS Support Federation, founded in 1989 to campaign to “protect and improve the NHS”, states that “at the heart of the NHS should be patients, but the coalition government’s planned reforms will break-up NHS services and business motives will cut deeply into the fairness, quality and value that we have come to expect.”

The Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Mail have all been calling for reforms for months perpetuating the myth that there is only one way forward, as though society urgently needs release from state control. From these newspapers, it is hardly surprising – they are owned by the Barclay Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, and Viscount Rothermere respectively. That the BBC analysis also now shows a level of support for the reforms suggests that journalists favour repeating the line of the government and business community, over assessing the concerns of the health professionals and the opinions of the public.

Categories in which this article appears: NHS | Conservative Party | Politics | BBC News |

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Comments (2)

1. angry healthworker13 May 2012 16:20

These scum bags neither have to rely on publicly funded care, nor have to work there. I would not hesitate to hang these greedy dictotorial traitors. They can only listen to their own bank accounts, lets face it Barclays is one of the scummiest, greediest banks around. If they want to have private healthcare, fair enough, give the rest of us hard working, tax paying slaves the chance to at least have something back. Who the hell do these people think they are and why arn't more people standing up to this kind of abuse? Because you are too scared!!! wake up before everyting that our grandfathers fought for is given away to the rich, again -WAKE UP

2. Enders Shadow20 February 2015 10:13

Ijn the 1970s the unions demonstrated that given the chance they will fatten their personal bank accounts at the expense of the general public. Privitisation of many of the means by which this theft was occurring and the reform of Trade Union law blocked much of this flow. However the NHS remains one of the areas where despite spectacular failures of public provision (remember Mid-Staffs) the strange idea that state employees are saints but private sector workers are devils persists. The truth, of course, is that there are many of both in both.

The great advantage of private sector provision within the NHS is that it offers greater accountability; the client provider split is far clearer, and when things go wrong with the provision, there's less pressure to cover it up. One of the failures of the MidStaff scandal was that the client - the health authority - failed to address the problems, probably because they remained too close to the public sector provider.

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