Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone….peerless lobbyist
During a late-night session on April 24th, the House of Lords debated and approved new S75 regulations. Peers voted in favour of NHS officials putting all services out to tender unless they can prove it could only be provided by one particular provider.
I’m all for greater use of professional procurement executives ensuring that NHS suppliers give taxpayers better value for money. But the above debate’s vote didn’t guarantee that at all. What it did was to slip under the radar a go-ahead for private firms to get into the process per se. And we all know (do we not?) where that ended up with the PFI.
The regulations have been criticised by the BMA and NHS Clinical Commissioners, who fear they will stifle the freedom of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to get the best possible deal at any individual point in time. Anyone who has ever been involved in supplier negotiation will know that, for once, this isn’t special pleading: what we have here are new rules designed to ensure every oink can get its nose in the trough.
Lord Hunt voted against the change in rules, explaining that “Every day, up and down the country, a market is unfolding in the NHS. People in the NHS believe that that is happening. They are seeing contracts already being won by the private sector. They worry about the fragmentation of services and about the overall intent of the Government.’ Sources did suggest to me afterwards that Lord Hunt is not related to the Rt. Hon Heezak Hunt, the recently over-promoted Secretary for Health.
NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar says – very sensibly – “Where competition is the most effective route to improving care, CCGs need to be able to use it at their own local discretion, rather than have it forced upon them for all services”. Again, were I as a buyer of art or production services in my career to have been hogtied by corporate rules about whom I must consider, it would’ve reduced value for money – not increased it: the threat to a supplier of losing a contract ‘or else’ is in many cases infinitely greater than that of a standardised process of competitive tender. Each and every situation is different.
But this isn’t just a case of Parliamentarians lacking a commercial perspective. Far from it: the aim of the rule changes is to force the NHS to put all but a tiny minority of its services out for competitive tender.
The MPs and Peers pushing that rule change are covertly voting to increase the market share of unelected interests they represent. And I must give massive credit to Social Investigations – an organisation whose politics I do not on the whole share – for furnishing these damning figures on the amount of nests being feathered here:
- 206 parliamentarians have recent or present financial connections to private healthcare providers.
- 142 Lords have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare. (One – the former Virginia Bottomley – is a second-cousin of the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt)
- 1 in 4 Conservative Peers have recent or present financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
- 64 MPs have recent or present financial links to companies involved in private healthcare
- 79% of these are Conservative
- 4 Key members of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group have parliamentarians with financial connections to companies involved in healthcare
- 333 donations from private healthcare sources totalling £8.3 million have been gifted to the Conservative Party
- 2 companies, DACBeachcroft, Cumberlege Connections., which have Lords as a partner and as an owner respectively, moved themselves into a position to make money from the reforms as the Lords voted on the bill, and before the bill became Act
- 5 organisations link to Baroness Cumberlege: Her company, Cumberlege Connections, Associate Parliamentary Health Group, 2020health, Huntsworth plc, MJM, healthcare solutions
- 19 Lords and MPs have financial links to Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
No account of this vote or the interests surrounding it appeared on the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 news. Not a single MSM press title went near it. Well just fancy that.