A Morning Star article about huge government waste on NHS IT projects and a Comment is Free article about the government’s intention being to abolish the NHS and introduce a US-based private health insurance model.
- Conservative election poster 2010
A few recent news articles concerning the UK’s Conservative and Liberal-Democrat coalition government – the ConDem’s – brutal attack on the National Health Service.
The NHS spent £2.7 billion on a computer system that doesn’t – and likely never will – work. And it may may spend a further £4bn, or even more, because it would cost more to cancel the contracts than let them run to their useless end.
In mid-May, when the National Audit Office pronounced the NHS National Programme for IT dead, there were concerned headlines in all the papers. Tory Health Minister Simon Burns called the scheme an “expensive farce.”
But since then, silence.
The billions will continue to pour out of the Health Service into the pockets of two companies, CSC and BT. And no one is to blame.
David Cameron is busy berating poor people for having too many children. Ed Miliband is having a go at the unemployed for “shirking.” So there is plenty of blame to go round.
But £7bn of NHS money down the drain? It seems to be no one’s fault.
It’s easy to kick the poor. But having a go at the silicon snake-oil salesmen is a little harder, because the NHS IT scandal was cooked up by the same mix of new Labour corporate groupies, bankers and friends of the Tories who still hang around our political scene.
One former Labour minister works for a firm being paid for the NHS techno-crap. The Tories’ “efficiency adviser” helped with the scheme’s birth.
So the front benches of both parties keep quiet about the NHS’s wasted billions. Piddling on the poor from a moderate height is so much easier.
Patricia Hewitt, Labour health minister when the National Programme for IT was set up, became a BT director in 2008. So the NHS pays BT billions for a computer system that doesn’t work. And BT pays Hewitt £159,000 a year for a part-time job.
The Tories are strangely quiet too. They might have cause for mixed feelings – the NHS Programme For IT was launched at a seminar organised by Tony Blair.
Not a single doctor or nurse was invited to it, but Blair’ s head of “government commerce,” Peter Gershon, was.
Just before the last election, Cameron launched what he thought was a daring theft of new Labour’s clothes. He took on Gershon as a Conservative “efficiency adviser.” Thus the Tory’s idea of efficiency is a man who helped bring a £7bn failure to the NHS. Despite his lack of health qualifications, Gershon has a thing for the NHS. He is also chairman of General Healthcare, a private hospital firm that sells NHS operations – and wants to sell more.
The political horse-trading is over: the Future Forum has given the green light to the government’s fundamental reforms of the NHS. The government’s response signals that the policy of switching to mixed funding and further privatisation of care is unabated.
It took the prime minister’s intervention to disclose that funding is the primary purpose behind the bill. The NHS, he told us, is simply not sustainable in its present form and its commitments can no longer be met from taxes. This controversial claim is far from true.
Cameron’s twin strategy is to continue with market competition on the assumption that it improves cost-efficiency, and raise new forms of funding by facilitating the introduction of private insurance and patient top-up fees. While competition is now proclaimed by government as an unqualified good, the second prong of the strategy – moving to user charges and insurance funds – dare not speak its name. But key to both are the consequences for redistribution or fairness.
Redistribution underpinned the drafting of the 1946 NHS Act. The structures and mechanisms required to achieve this were administrative tiers covering geographic populations to ensure universal coverage; services are integrated into the administrative structures and provided on the basis of need. For more than 50 years there were no pricing, billing or market transaction costs. Crucially, there was no patient selection, and access to care was on the basis of need, not ability to pay. The NHS led the way as a model of a fair, efficient and low-cost system.
Competition and insurance breaks up the systems of redistribution. Several decades of research show that the impact of choice and competition on quality, efficiency and outcomes in healthcare is unproven. The forum pays no heed to evidence, selectively citing a slim array of mainly non-scholarly evidence in support of its ideological framing of market competition.