You should have listened to Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws who neatly summarise what many bloggers and doctors were saying for months:
Care, not money:
My Lords, I make a declaration that I am a fellow of three royal colleges, too, like the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. I should also say that I am married to a surgeon who has spent his life in the National Health Service. He is from a dynasty of doctors. His grandfather was a doctor, his mother a doctor, his aunt a doctor and now our daughter is entering medical school. They all entered medicine not because they are interested in making money but because they want to care for people. It is the idea of being at the service of others that draws most health carers into medicine. They do not want to run businesses; they do not see their patients as consumers or themselves as providers. They do not see their relationship as commercial and they do not want to be part of anything other than a publicly funded and provided National Health Service.
Private Providers and Secrecy:
Health professionals also feel proud, as all of my husband's colleagues do, that Britain is the only country in the industrialised world where wealth does not in some measure determine access to healthcare. They are saddened that the National Health Service is now facing the prospect of becoming a competitive market of private providers funded by the taxpayer. When we hear talk of accountability, they point out that nothing in the Bill requires the boards of NHS-funded bodies to meet in public, so there will be a lack of transparency. That will be complicated by the fact that private providers are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so they can cite commercial sensitivity to cover their activities.
Insurance-based model by stealth:
Others have spoken of the removal of the duty on the Secretary of State to provide healthcare services and pointed out that that duty is now to be with unelected commissioning consortia accountable to a quango, the national Commissioning Board. The Bill does not state that comprehensive services must be provided, so there may well be large gaps in service provision in parts of the country, with no Secretary of State answerable. Providers will be able to close local services without reference of the decision to the Secretary of State. Although the Government say that the treatment will be free at the point of delivery-we hear the calm reassurances-the power to charge is to be given to consortia. That paves the way for top-up charging and could lead eventually to an insurance-based model.
Monitor & family silver:
Monitor, the regulator, is to have the duty to sniff out and eliminate anti-competitive behaviour-and, of course, to promote competition. According to the Explanatory Notes to the original Bill, Monitor is modelled on
How is that for reassurance to the general public? If anything should be a warning that this spells catastrophe, it should be that this is another step in the disastrous selling-off of the family silver to the private sector, with the public eventually being held to ransom and quality becoming second to profitability.
Monitor: Competition or integration.
The regulator, Monitor, will have the power to fine hospital trusts 10 per cent of their income for anti-competitive behaviour. Any decent doctor will tell you that for seamless, efficient care for patients, integration is key to improving quality of life and patient experience. The question is whether competition and integration can co-exist. Evidence from the Netherlands is that they cannot. There, market-style health reforms designed to promote competitive behaviour have meant that healthcare providers have been prevented from entering into agreements that restrict competition, so networks involving GPs, geriatricians, nursing homes and social care providers have been ruled anti-competitive. There is a fear that care pathways, integrated services and equitable access to care in this country will be lost when placed second to market interests.
Delusion of patient choice: Cherry Picking
Under the delusion of greater patient choice, people are to be given a personal health budget. I am interested to hear what happens if it runs out halfway through the year. Private hospitals will enter the fray as treatment providers and, as in other arenas, they will undoubtedly, as others have said, cherry-pick and offer treatment for cases where they can treat a high number of low-risk patients and make a profit-for example, hip and knee replacement, cataracts, ENT and gynae procedures.
NHS Hospitals: Undermined!
It is essential in an acute teaching hospital to retain the case mix, though, so it will be the teaching hospitals that will also provide the loss-making services such as accident and emergency and intensive care and deal with chronic illness and the diseases of the poor, such as obesity-we can name them all. These are essential services but they are also very costly. An ordinary hospital cannot provide them if it does not have the quick throughput cases as well to maintain a financial balance. If relatively easy procedures go to private providers, the loss of revenue to the trusts will eventually lead to them being unable to provide the costly essential services. It will mean that doctors trained in these places are not exposed to all aspects of patient care. Private companies cherry-picking services undermines and destabilises the ability of the NHS to deliver essential services like, as I have mentioned, intensive care units, accident and emergency, teaching, training and research.
Asset Stripping: as Southern Cross
Clause 294 allows for the transferring of NHS assets, including land, to third parties, and the selling off of assets. Clause 160 allows for the raising of loans by trusts, so hospitals taken over by the private sector could be asset-stripped and then sold on, as happened with Southern Cross homes.
The removal of practice boundaries and primary care trust boundaries will mean that commissioning groups will not be coterminous with social services in local authorities, so vulnerable people are more likely to fall through the gaps between GP practices. GPs will also be able to cherry-pick by excluding patients who cost more money and can lead to overspend.
Lawyer-multimillion-pound executive salaries, dividends and fraud:
Then there is the issue of the cost of market-based healthcare. Advertising, billing, legal disputes-I say this as a lawyer-multimillion-pound executive salaries, dividends and fraud could end up consuming a huge amount of the pot that can be spent on front-line services. We will end up, as in America, with that extra stuff taking up 20 per cent of the health budget. The downward spiral of ethics, the increase in dishonesty and the conflicts of interest become huge, and you see the destruction of the public service ethos.
Overdiagnoses, overtreats and overtests.
I want to scream to the public, "Don't let them do it"-and in fact the public are responding by saying in turn, "Don't let them do it". Market competition in healthcare does not improve outcomes. The US has the highest spending in the world and the outcomes are mediocre. The US overdiagnoses, overtreats and overtests. Why? Because that increases revenue. You change the nature of the relationship between doctors and their patients. You get more lawsuits and doctors therefore practise defensive medicine. You ruin your system.
I say this particularly to colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches. They may be being encouraged to think that voting against the Bill may bring down the coalition, but all I can say is that the electorate is watching. If people feel failed by the party on this, I am afraid that it will pay a terrible price.
McKinsey et al: 25 year plot:
This has been a 25-year project, done by stealth. It started with the internal market and is now moving to the external market. It was not thought up by mere politicians but by the money men, the private healthcare companies and the consultancies like McKinsey-the people, in fact, who in many ways brought us the banking crisis. They have funded pro-market think tanks and achieved deep penetration into the Department of Health, into many of our health organisations and right into some of the senior levels of my party as well as those on the other Benches.
The NHS is totemic. It is about a pool of altruism and it speaks to who we are as a nation. It is the mortar that binds us in the way that the American constitution does the American people. For us, it is about this system. It really is the place where we are "all in it together"-one of the few places, it would seem at the moment. Doctors get 88 per cent trust ratings with the public, while politicians get 14 per cent. The vast majority of doctors are saying to us, "Withdraw this Bill". We should be listening.
Granddad, I have read most of these behind your back via Twitter and many Blogs. You should have listened. Now we are paying dearly.