In February, campaigners in Gloucestershire forced local NHS bosses to reconsider their plans to outsource local hospitals and community NHS services to a so-called “social enterprise”, taking Judicial Review proceedings to the High Court and obtaining a consent order which required NHS Gloucestershire to scrap its plans, and to both consider NHS options & involve before deciding on how to proceed.
Solicitors Leigh Day & Co., have written to NHS Gloucestershire on behalf of campaigners, warning them that they are in danger of acting unlawfully again, & giving them seven days to rectify the situation, in a case with “far reaching implications”. They say the local NHS management appears to have “set its face” against NHS options, despite being “perfectly well aware that both the staff and the public want these services to remain in the NHS”. The letter adds that it appears NHS Gloucestershire bosses “continue to misunderstand the clear legal position” & that management has “taken a decision that it is under a legal obligation to run a tender process…for the provision of community services [& to wrongly] rule out the option of entering into an agreement with NHS Trust without a tendering process.”
Campaigners point to the fact that in much of the rest of the country, services have remained in the NHS without tender, & challenge the reasons for the PCT`s actions. Caroline Molloy of Stroud Against The Cuts (SATC) said: “The government has repeatedly claimed that the Health & Social Care Act is not about opening our NHS up to the private sector, because they know the public doesn`t want this to happen, either in Gloucestershire or elsewhere. So, is Andrew Lansley going to allow local health bosses and MPs to get away with misinterpreting their legal obligations in this way, revealing the real agenda behind the Act?”
James Beecher, Chair of SATC, added “Forcing the NHS to open to the private sector is unnecessary and dangerous. It will lead to damaging cuts and patient charging as we have seen in dentistry for example. And it is hugely wasteful at a time when we can ill afford it. Already, in NHS Gloucestershire, whilst bosses admit wasting nearly half a million pounds on the costs of trying to force through NHS privatisation, staff numbers have dropped by a quarter.”
Organisations such as Social Investigations and Spinwatch have been detailing the extensive links between private healthcare firms and elected representatives, links which extend to Gloucestershire where local MP Mark Harper received a £5,000 donation just before the election from Crispin Odey, one of the main hedge fund backers of Circle Health, which is one of the fastest growing private hospital companies. (1)
Campaigners point to polls showing that the vast majority of the public do not want any more private sector involvement in the NHS. (2)
Despite repeated requests from campaigners, local health bosses have so far refused to give an indication of how they will meet their legal obligations to involve the public.
The full letter can be read here http://keepglosnhspublic.posterous.com/solicitors-letter-warns-gloucestershire-pct-t.
(2) In 2011, a YouGov survey found that only 27% of people supported an increased role for profit-making companies in the NHS (see Guardian, 29th January 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jan/29/nhs-private-companies-yougov-poll). This year – after more coverage of the plans – this figure had dropped, and a repeat of the YouGov survey found that now only 19% of people thought that increasing private competition within the NHS would make services better (as reported on the 13th February 2012: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/02/13/poll-public-reject-key-changes-planned-in-nhs-bill/).