EXCLUSIVE: Secret Tory steering committee working overtime to ready NHS for mass privatisation

Enquiries by The Slog in the later hours of yesterday evening confirmed that an informal but extremely powerful Working Group has been set up by the Coalition – separate from both NHS management and the Department for Health – to assess the best way to facilitate the handover of NHS Hospital Trusts to the private sector.

Although details are hazy as yet, a picture is emerging of a Group very obviously dominated by privateers and anti-State lobbyists. To the best of my knowledge thus far, not a single member of it is closely associated with (or technically proficient in the understanding of) Britain’s rapidly expanding mutuality sector.

In the midst of blanket 24/7 coverage of paedophiles under every care home bed alongside easily the most boring Presidential election since 1972, this NHS story may not gain much traction immediately; but it is nevertheless the clearest sign yet to emerge of the Conservative Party’s intention to hand over what’s left of the debt-ridden hospital sector lock stock and barrel to the private/insurance sector.

The National Audit Office (NAO) today points out vigorously in a press release that the NHS must get tougher at negotiating future private deals, following the signing of a contract with private Group Circle to make over £300m of savings in the 10 years it has been given to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital. The NAO said it was concerned that Circle’s ability to make the savings had not been properly tested…. a worry that is wholly consistent with reports I get every week about the sloppy, chaotic way the creeping profitification of the UK’s health service is moving ahead and accelerating.

A week ago, a cross-Party group of MPs declared that a total of 34 NHS organisations – nearly one in 12 – failed to balance their books in 2011-12. And the Public Accounts Committee recently expressed concern that ‘ministers could not offer adequate assurances that access to good quality care would be maintained when trusts had problems’.

PAC Chairman Margaret Hodge said: “It very much looks like the department [of health] is inventing the rules and processes on the hoof, rather than anticipating problems and establishing risk protocols.”

The cross-Party MPs meanwhile added that the government ‘is unable to explain what would trigger action in a trust with serious financial problem’s – and how essential services would be maintained while this happened. But the word that’s misplaced in that observation is ‘unable’.

It should really read ‘unwilling’. Says one health sector insider:

“The Lansley strategy was always to give GPs whatever they wanted and wait for cash-starved hospitals to collapse. It was probably a boon for the Government that Mr Lansley enjoys only meagre skills as a communicator, because amid all the furore over his ideas, and Trade Union noise about cuts, the growing hospital cash-crisis went critical with very few protesters noticing.”

I also understand that both Jeremy Hunt and his private-health lobbyist cousin Lady Bottomley get constant access to and input from the discreet Working Group.

Laughably, yesterday Health Secretary Hunt expressed his opinion that NHS managers had been too focused on targets and finances and had “lost sight” of patient care. He was issuing new standards covering how NHS managers should work….but while doing so, the DfH, lobbyists and secret Working Group were girding their loins in readiness for an orgy of private takeovers, where the emphasis would be on remote shareholder dividends rather than community needs.

The two-faced hypocrisy and back-of-envelope policy development are only too familiar in the madhouse that is contemporary Westminster politics. Mealy-mouthed Frunt-Bottomley added:

“We’ve seen cases where some managers seem to have lost sight of the fact that keeping control of care is as important as keeping control of finances……We will continue to look at how NHS managers can be better supported and put these values at the heart of management, learning from the findings of the inquiries into Mid Staffordshire…”

Here the Health Secretary is making a clumsy association between the NHS’s worst ever failure, and the whole concept of social Health Care. But nobody in Camerlot is looking at the very real (and more stabilising) mutuality alternative to clumsy State control and profit-obsessed private ownership.

At the same time, yet again the Left has preferred futile demonstrations, soundbites and slogan-yelling to the opportunity for suggesting something better and achievable that could capture the public imagination.

Earlier yesterday evening, a senior London NHS manager confirmed to The Slog that “the Lansley proposals were nothing more than a Trojan Horse paving the way for privatisation”. The hugely imaginative Ed Miller Band policy is to undo everything the Torylition has done, and go straight back to the very Labour funding practices that generated the long-term funding problem in the first place.

Somewhere between these two misguided, polemic-fuelled directions is the thing a majority of Brits want: the survival of a more modern, better funded and cost-free NHS. But in the context of current British political process, that is never going to happen.

This has been Reason No. 6,913 why we need to demolish the UK Party system and start again