As a Labour canvasser knocking on doors and listening to voters it is surprising how few people want to talk about Brexit. Most are heartily sick of Brexit and want it over as soon as possible. Telling them that even if we leave the EU in January negotiating trade deals will take years, and Brexit will probably go on until the next election, is a waste of time.
What people do want to talk about is the NHS. People worry about long waits for GP appointments and recount horrendous experiences at A&E departments. Issues of funding cuts, lack of staff and inadequate facilities is the lived experience of those who cannot afford private health care.
People understand that health care is expensive, services are rationed and that NHS staff work under enormous pressure and things sometimes go wrong. The extent to which the NHS has been fragmented and privatised over recent years has largely gone unnoticed.
The Devizes treatment Centre is a case in point. This is branded as the Devizes NHS Treatment Centre with the NHS logo outside, but it is actually run by a private profit making company Care UK who sell services to the NHS.
Care UK runs a sizeable portfolio of outsourced NHS provision, and had an annual turnover in 2018 of £356 million and an operating profit of £8 million. Their CEO appears to earn c.£700k a year. At the moment about half of their revenue comes from NHS contracts. The rest of their income comes from private patients (Annual Report Dec. 2018)
Care UK are currently in debt, due to high start up costs, and claim to run at a loss of c.£10m per annum for taxation purposes. They can thus service their debt and eventually will own their premises and facilities outright. As a private company their accounts are less transparent than a public body. I don’t know what they pay their shareholders.
The argument is that private providers like Care UK can at any time raise prices and as NHS cuts go deeper, the NHS will reduce their contracts to private providers like these with little visibility. When NHS contracts are cut the Government don’t have to close a hospital which always creates political mayhem. Over time these providers can become the only providers and people will have to pay privately for their care. The system is now set up for this to happen. It is happening all over the country.
On Thursday, 28 November at 7pm, in St. Peter’s Church, Marlborough, Dr Bob Gill, a GP and documentary film maker, will argue that the NHS, once the finest and most cost efficient health service in the world, is now in danger due to the hidden creep of privatisation. Come and join the discussion. Entry is free.
Vice chair Devizes Constituency Labour Party.