This Real News Network segment describes how Theresa May has been caught out on her plan to privatize NHS assets. And on top of that, selling the real estate is the worst sort of financial gimmick. The British Government would get a one-time lump sum and then NHS costs would rise in future years as a result of the lease payments. You can see how that will play out: the financial-engineering-resulting budget increases would be used to claim NHS is becoming unaffordable. That would lay the groundwork for service cuts, requiring co-pays for some services, and/or privatization.
Sharmini Peries: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The National Health Service in the UK is planning to delay or cancel treatment in half the country. This is according to the English health charity, The King’s Fund. This shocking level of cuts in half of local areas in England is a result of attempts to meet financial targets, according to The King’s Fund. Health professionals accuse the Tories of willfully destroying the NHS by starving it of cash it needs to operate safely.
This brings to mind the comments of Tory Party grandee Oliver Letwin who in 2004 allegedly told a private meeting that NHS would cease to exist in five years of a Tory government. Letwin, then advisor to the Tory chancellor, also offered a book titled Privatising the World. Later, what he said actually comes true, albeit a bit later than he had predicted. Joining us now to discuss all of this about the UK National Health Service is Kam Sandhu. Kam is an investigative journalist and editor and co-founder of the UK-based independent media outlet, Real Media. Kam, good to have you back.
Kam Sandhu: It’s great to be back.
Sharmini Peries: Kam, let me start off by showing our audience a clip of Prime Minister Theresa May who recently answered a question on the NHS.
Theresa May: We’re not … Nobody is selling off the NHS. We’re committed to the NHS remaining free at the point of use. What we want to ensure is that it is funded properly. We’ve put extra money in. It’s record levels of funding for the NHS, but crucially, you can only do that if you’ve got the economy to provide the funding, if you’ve got the economy that has developed … that is developing the taxes that can be put in and the money that can be put into the NHS. That means a strong economy. It means not wrecking the economy. Labour’s nonsensical economic policy would wreck the economy. That would mean less money for the NHS in future.
Sharmini Peries: Kam, how do you respond to that Prime Minister’s comments here?
Kam Sandhu: There’s no kind of two ways about it, I’m afraid. It is an absolute lie that the NHS is not being sold off. We can explain that in a recent appearance by Theresa May on the Andrew Neil show where she said that she backs the Naylor Report.
Andrew Neil: The manifesto pledges “the most ambitious program on investment and buildings and technology the NHS has ever seen.”
Theresa May: That money will be following. There’s a report that was done on the NHS, the Naylor Report, which set out what was needed. We’re backing the proposals in the Naylor Report.
Andrew Neil: How much?
Kam Sandhu: Now the Naylor Report, much of the British public will not know about it, and it’s only really come to light what’s behind it as a result of NHS campaigners and people concerned about what’s happening to the NHS. Within the Naylor Report, which Theresa May now says she backs, it’s written into it that the property and the assets and the buildings that the NHS holds will be sold off, needs to be sold off, and they’ll be incentivized to be sold off in a way that the NHS won’t be able to access public funding.
Speaker: The Naylor Review published earlier this year gives cash-strapped hospitals only one option to be able to buy vital equipment such as MRI scanners through the fire sale of their land and hospitals. To encourage them to do this as quickly as possible, for every pound they raise by flogging off assets, the Treasury will give them an extra two pounds to spend. We’ve been told time after time by Theresa May that the NHS is not for sale. However, her support for the Naylor Review means this simply cannot be true.
Kam Sandhu: As you said, the NHS is in desperate need of that funding. Campaigners say about £20 billion has been removed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. They’re using all these incentives to get the NHS to open up its assets, which moves us much, much closer to privatization, and shows the lie really of what Theresa May said in a different interview in not so far apart.
Sharmini Peries: Right. How is the British media dealing with this? I mean, NHS, if it’s like Canada, it’s close to people’s hearts. You would think that the media would really be going after any issue related to the NHS with a certain rigor, given that it concerns the entire country. In this particular case of our discussion, half the country is going to suffer from it.
Kam Sandhu: Well, that’s an interesting question, and you’re absolutely right in terms of the fact that the NHS is very close to people’s hearts. There is massive public opposition to things like privatization, to the idea of charging, but these changes have taken place outside of the public view. These are huge transformations that are happening under the guises of really boring names, stuff like STPs, really vague and kind of obtuse ways of bringing in these changes. There has been mass transformation, and unfortunately the media has failed to kind of challenge what’s happening.
I mean, it’s quite surprising that only three years ago, the NHS was regarded as the best healthcare system in the world by an international panel of experts. Bottom in that same league was the American system, largely because it spent a lot on healthcare and got some of the worst outcomes. Despite those facts, we are very much moving towards an American-style system. Campaigners I’ve spoken to say that there is no doubt that we are moving towards that kind of system.
To give you a kind of example of some of these transformations that have taken place, Simon Stevens, who was appointed head of NHS England in 2014, has been one of the figures who’s really drove through some of these changes in his Five Year Forward Plan. That Five Year Forward Plan separates England into 44 footprints or regions. It’s good to note here that this is happening only in England. This is not happening in Scotland. This is not happening in Wales. Perhaps that gives light to the idea that this is very concentrated, and that perhaps it’s strange that they’re making it seem so necessary that it has to happen when we have two functioning public services continuing in the countries next to us.
These regions, these 44 regions, then are given budgets that they now need to manage, which is something that they’ve never done before. The campaigners I spoke to said that it’s a way of fragmenting the service. The pressures are being piled on in different ways in different areas. It’s much more difficult for these regions to understand what’s happening between them. One expert that I spoke to said that, while the media does talk about funding and that does come up from time to time, the NHS does appear in the news for a bit and then disappears, they’re not talking about privatization. They’re not talking about the presence of US companies. They’re not talking about the pressures that health workers are under and the suppressed wages. We have stories of nurses going to food banks, and it’s estimated that by the end of the decade, they will have experienced a 12% pay cut.
The ways that these pressures are manifesting on our NHS is not being communicated, but Oliver Letwin, as you said in your opening there, he did write a book called Privatising the World. He did advise the government as a health advisor, and he said in that book, in order to privatize a service, you need to artificially distress it in order to make the need for private companies to come in, which is something that we’ve seen happen. As a result of that, we’re seeing some services being cut. We’re seeing people turned away from privately-run services now because they say they’re reached their quota. This is now changing the tradition of 65 years of a universal healthcare system in the UK.
Sharmini Peries: That 50% cancellation we were talking about or I mentioned earlier, it might be a part of this strategy of stressing the system.
Kam Sandhu: A hundred percent. I mean, what are these budgets? Where have these targets come from? Who set them? We’re coupling this with the pressures that are already put on the NHS. If you imagine a hospital budget, they also have these PFI loans, which are very, very toxic loans taken out, kind of mostly under the Blair government but a little bit in the Major government before that. The Conservatives now have signed up to the same deals. It means that people have estimated we’ll be paying back £300 billion for £56 billion worth of assets over 30 years. Now that, those loan payments, have to come out of hospital budgets. At the same time, those hospital budgets are being cut, so the money that these hospitals are trying to operate with is depleting. I do want to raise that we have the second lowest expenditure on healthcare in the G7, so this idea that we are unable to afford this system when it already is one of the lowest spend is really a myth.
Sharmini Peries: The man, Kam, in charge of the NHS, Simon Stevens, who’s the head of it, you seem to know a lot about him. Give us some context here as to who he is and what it means in terms of the NHS.
Kam Sandhu: He’s a really interesting figure, and I’ve been really surprised at how many questions have not been raised about Simon Stevens. He was appointed head of NHS England in 2014, and as I said, he’s been driving through these changes. Prior to being head of NHS England, he worked for almost 10 years for one of the biggest healthcare insurers in the US. That’s UnitedHealth. During that time, he was head of Medicare for a number of years before being promoted to vice president from 2009 to 2014. No, he’s not a small figure. Interestingly enough, before he worked at UnitedHealth, he was actually an advisor to Tony Blair’s government during the time that these PFIs were being deployed. He has been described by some campaigners as an architect of the marketization of the health service.
Yet upon his return to NHS or upon his return to the UK as the head of NHS England, there hasn’t been any challenges of who this guy is and his interests. At the same time, under the banner, under the name Optum, UnitedHealth is here, buying up NHS contracts. We have a guy who was vice president of a big healthcare insurer in the US, and we have that company also buying up contracts in the US with policy waved through by Simon Stevens. He said that his 44 footprint plan would be an enormous opportunity for the private sector. For me, I’m seeing huge conflicts of interest in this man.
Sharmini Peries: Interesting times that all of this is being discussed at a very critical time in terms of the elections in Britain coming up on June 8th. What are the polls saying, Kam, and is this a part of what’s driving the Corbyn surge?
Kam Sandhu: I certainly think Corbyn’s promise to protect the NHS is going to massively work in his favor. To give you one factor, in 2015, Election Unspun did some research into the media coverage of certain subjects. They found that the Conservatives were trusted more on the economy, and that Labour was trusted more on the NHS. Yet in the final few weeks before that election, the NHS was taken off the top five subjects that were being discussed. The NHS has always been something that people believe Labour will protect, so I think that will work in their favor.
But I’m not sure if it’s been communicated really what’s at stake here, the changes to our living standards and the way that we operate and the changes to our society if we lose the NHS. I think it’s going to be tough to articulate that with now only a week left, but many campaigners are doing what they can. I certainly think this report will be another blow to what’s turning out to be a bit of a tirade of failure on Theresa May’s part. I mean, I’m sure people would like to ask her more questions, but she doesn’t seem to be willing to turn up to debates.
Sharmini Peries: All right, Kam. I thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to your report next week right the day after June 8th, and we’ll know who the winner of this general election is.
Kam Sandhu: Looking forward to speaking to you again then.
Sharmini Peries: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.