Theresa May in Election Jitters Caught Lying About Tory Plans to Cut The NHS

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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.

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  1. UserFriendly

    I would love someone with more knowledge than me to give a rundown of what happens if the Tories and the NI Unionists come short of forming a government. I see that the Lib dems are promising not to join a coalition with either side. What happens if no one can form an outright majority? Could they pull a Spain and just not form a government for months all while hurling towards Brexit? Would there be a lot of pressure on the lib dems to pick a side (assuming SNP joins with Labour and the Greens and Plaid Cymru and maybe the other NI parties).

    I would love to hear some speculation on what it would take to get the smaller parties to join a coalition on either side.

    1. windsock

      Probably the largest party, even if it does not have the majority of seats, would form a minority government, and bills would be passed on an issue by issue basis, with the smaller parties supporting those bills that they agree with, or against others.

      It would be unsustainable in the long term and probably lead to another election within two years. And Brexit – well who knows? We’ve never done that before. Article 50 has been triggered, but I suppose we could always go to the European Court of Justice to ask for a deferment/delay. But wouldn’t that show the “government” up for the incoherent shambles that it would be?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’m no expert on the mysterious constitution that nobody has ever seen that underlies the UK system, but as Windsock says, if no majority government can be formed most likely the existing government will continue in place on a minority basis until one is. The Queen can call someone in and tell them to form a government but it is highly unlikely this would be done unless there was already agreement. A minority government could carry on pretty much indefinitely if the biggest of the minority parties doesn’t think another election is worth the risk. It would mean of course the government could not put forward anything to Parliament which is likely to trigger a defeat – a budget would therefore be particularly difficult.

      There is an analogous situation right now in Ireland, where the government is a minority, but its working fine on the basis that they have a set of informal agreements with opposition parties that they won’t lose in parliamentary votes – controversial issues are informally floated past opposition leaders first. This suits the opposition right now as it means they can wait for what they judge to be the right moment for a new election.

      1. UserFriendly

        Interesting. Clearly the Tories would have the most seats and I imagine that SNP might have a pound of flesh they want but would much prefer Corbyn to May. But for Corbyn to walk away with it he would need to cobble together a coalition to form a majority. Is there any way that Sinn Fein would take their 5 seats and form a coalition with labour if it came down to it? Would all that mess about him and the IRA essentially make that politically impossible?

        1. Darn

          Sinn Féin have said they will not take their seats “under any circumstances”. The minor parties could tablea vote of no confidence, if the Tories are the govt, and then pass a vote of confidence in a Labour minority govt or coalition within 14 days. Corbyn should do a Miliband and rule out coalition with the SNP — the SNP’s talk of “writing the budget” turned off enough English voters in 2015 that they gave the Tories a majority.

          Corbyn issued a statement denouncing the IRA 6 hours before the Manchester bombing. It was published in Metro and was a response to questions from the Northern Ireland Secretary. Unfortunately the party have not been publicising it and the Tories are still getting away with using the IRA charge. This vid by them has got over a million views, but it came out four days later.

      2. Marco

        PK I love your analysis and wish Yves and Lambert would give you a more prominent gig on all things U.K. On a previous thread (several weeks ago before Corbyn’s poll numbers reversed) you stated that Corbyn was a fundamentally unlikeable character and that fact was affecting his standing with the voters. Are voters really warming up to him or is May really that awful? Has the media dynamic changed in such a way the real Corbyn obscured until now can finally shine?

        1. purplepencils

          piping in here. I was going to vote Labour at first despite finding Corbyn a decidedly lacklustre candidate, but I’m surprised by how much he’s improved in the past few weeks. perhaps there’s finally something at stake? even his detractors within the party seem to have hit pause on sabotaging him, and the media is finally giving him a chance.

          what do you think, PK?

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Thanks Marco, but I’m certainly not much of an expert on UK politics now, mostly because I can’t bring myself to read or watch much modern British media.

          I was disgusted with Corbyn over his wavering on Brexit and I thought that was his last chance to really challenge the Tories, but I was wrong. I saw no evidence that anyone outside of his core support would vote for him, but he has seemingly improved his media persona (helped by the major media being forced to be more fair-minded during an election). Sometimes very subtle shifts can make a big difference. His refusal to dress or behave as a conventional politician can either be seen as wilful or charming – he seems to have managed the shift from the former to the latter. I don’t know whether this is his doing, or whether he belatedly sought good media advisors – from what I’ve read its the latter.

          Its helped of course by the reality that May has proven a very weak campaigner and the Tories have badly misjudged the tone of their campaign.

          1. Darn

            Labour’s 2015 voters voted Remain at the same rate as the SNP’s 2015 voters, yet Labour MPs kept saying Jezza was to blame for Brexit, but nobody said the same about Sturgeon.

          2. efschumacher

            His refusal to dress or behave as a conventional politician can either be seen as wilful or charming –

            In the various interviews and situations I’ve seen Jeremy Corbyn appear in, it just never occurred to me to even see the way he dresses. I am much more concerned with the message that is coming out of his mouth. Have I been evaluating people the wrong way all these years? Should I have paid attention to the ‘sizzle not the substance’ instead?

            How many people assess the way a person dresses as a key to the worth of what they are saying and doing?

            1. Darn

              I don’t care if politicians are shabbily dressed but I really wish he would lose that damn cap, it makes him look like Lenin

      3. Synoia

        The queue n invites the prospective Prime Minister to form a government. The final stage in forming Government is to is to win a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.

        Win – Govern
        Lose – Resign.

        1. Anonymous2

          The Government does not have to win a vote of confidence except if a motion of no confidence is tabled. The Government, particularly if in a minority, is unlikely to table such a motion. The Opposition can, but has to accept the consequences if it wins – it has to try to form a government itself or accept that there may be another election. In theory this could go on for a while but in reality minority governments rarely last long. It is possible to govern without passing laws, provided you can get supply, but obviously the Government’s power is very much reduced if it cannot get legislation through Parliament.

          In the 1970s Labour were twice in Government without a majority. The first time in Spring 1974 they only governed as a minority for six months before asking the Queen to call another election. This, in October 1974, they won with a majority of just three seats. After a while they lost their majority, so did a deal with the Liberals (the Lib-Lab pact), which was not a formal coalition but allowed Labour to continue to govern until 1979 when the pact ended. The Government lost a vote of no confidence (following a referendum on Scottish devolution) which forced an election which brought Mrs Thatcher to Number Ten. The rest of more recent history probably does not require exposition here.

          1. Darn

            Since the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 there has to be a vote of no confidence but if a vote of confidence is passed in the existing or new govt within 14 days then there won’t be an election.

    3. purplepencils

      can’t remember much of my constitutional law, but in theory, you could have a minority government. this has happened before; I think Labour formed a minority government in the 70s. but as you can imagine, this isn’t a very stable situation, as the PM is supposed to command the confidence of the majority of parliament. I think Wilson called for an election fairly soon after.

      if there’s a hung Parliament, I cannot imagine Labour not forming a coalition with the Greens and LibDems if it means being able to form government. I think Corbyn’s rhetoric on that now is simply to encourage tactical voting, for the Labour Party. I think there’s a fair amount of tactical voting going on now.

      1. Oregoncharles

        FWIW, the Greens in British Columbia just found themselves in the kingmaker position in a “hung parliament” there. They chose to form an alliance with the NDP, putting the latter in power, but not a coalition – no cabinet posts. Votes will be on a case-by-case basis.

        My personal observation is that coalitions have generally been disastrous for the Green Party where they happened, but certain situations create a lot of pressure. They’re allied with the SNP in Scotland.

        For that matter, if they still have only one seat they won’t be much of a factor unless, mayhap, Labour does even better than expected.

  2. windsock

    I saw two NHS cancer specialists yesterday – both Greek – wonderful care and immense amount of time taken with me. But the first said: “The NHS is broken”. My case is a bit complex (no need to explain) and apparently the 2nd of the two doctors I saw is the only one within my area qualified to deal with my case and hundreds of other complex cases. He was kind and thorough but looked exhausted.

    I have been a consistent heavy user of NHS services since 1990 (that complicated diagnosis again) and saw the decrepit buildings and clinics during the Major years and saw services improve dramatically during the Blair/Brown years (such as waiting time cut to five minutes for a clinic blood test which I have every three months). Since 2010, the Coalition years, services have deteriorated dramatically (now an hour wait for a blood test) and the bureaucracy is staggering.

    It’s taken a long time to get the current diagnosis and they are still struggling to work out the best treatment for me.

    Not only is the NHS being starved of money, and therefore staff and resources, but what will happen after Brexit? Will those two Greek doctors still be able to provide me with their wonderful care? I despair that British voters are blind to the consequences of voting Tory: a diminished, demoralised and decaying country.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I wish you well with your recovery. As you say – the general hatred of Blair and Brown has meant that people tend to overlook the billions they put into the NHS, albeit at a cost of introducing the cancer of internal markets and PPP’s.

      Its depressing that people can’t see the Tory playbook now – let the system run down, then go for more privatisation as a way of ‘fixing the crisis’. The NHS is still a great system, and lets not forget it is a very cheap system – it costs less as a percentage of GNP than almost any other health system in the developed world – but when a hospital system is starved of capital investment the long term costs go higher and higher as things decay.

    2. leslie A

      this is the recipe used to privatize things like the post office here. Sell off the land (and often historically important buildings), cut pensions, cut staff and then claim that the Post Office is another useless government agency that privates could do better. Do they really want the cl&*(terf*l( that we have in the US for healthcare?

    3. Darn

      if Brexit happens and there are immigration controls from the EU then EU citizens in the UK should simply be given British citizenship. Future NHS staff can be recruited from Brits or the allowed immigrants.

  3. Moneta

    It just goes to show that real estate is out of control. Real estate is sucking the life out of all other industries… look around and you’ll see how for a growing number of businesses real estate takes precedence over the goods and services they are offering. In my area, lawyers and optometrists, having bought in quickly appreciating regions are now big box landlords. Many small companies are selling on the value of their real estate, peanuts for the business per se. Many universities have focused more on real estate than its soft services. The list goes on…

    Over many decades, economies evolved around the price of real estate which was controlled by some rules in debt limits. (i.e. Percentage of income, 20% down payments, higher rates for higher risk, more limited government mortgage insurance, etc.)

    But over the last 2 decades, so many rules have been relaxed that real estate price are now completely out of whack with the rest of the economy. Many other sectors are surviving thanks to financial engineering and debt.

    Governments don’t want their economies to crumble so they double down on policies that further promote real estate.

    And most of the population does not mind because they don’t see real estate as a depreciable consumer good, they see it an asset that only goes up. For most, the house is their biggest asset and they don’t want to see any policy that will lower its price.

  4. Susan the other

    United Health (Optum) has gone into the British NHS like a stealth corporate raider. They should know better since they can’t make their “health care” business model work here. How will it work in the UK where costs are closely controlled. This push has been going on for some time – they were at this before the Brexit vote. Just wondering how leaving the EU will facilitate the breakup of the NHS and other state institutions. Being a vulture capitalist actually requires loose finance as well as a target that is desperate for money. I hope this doesn’t turn into Fire Sale Britain. We know how that went here.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      They should know better since they can’t make their “health care” business model work here.

      I don’t know, wikip.. says they are the 6th largest company in the US. Seems like it’s working just fine. For them.

    2. cirsium

      There is no “British” NHS. There are and have always been three separate systems in the UK. What this article is describing is the situation for the NHS in England and Wales.

  5. Anonymous2

    If the Tories get back, it will be interesting (and potentially worrying) to see what happens to Liam Fox. His connections with Atlantic Bridge clearly indicates a desire to move the UK closer (under?) the US. Reports suggest the US pharmaceutical industry believe the NHS pay too little for their drugs. A US/UK trade deal could require the breaking up of the NHS purchasing power to enable price rises to be pushed through. Fox has already been forced to resign once as a result of a cash for access scandal.

  6. JEHR

    Our Canadian health care system is being undermined by creeping privatization. We have to be eternally vigilant in order not to become a for-profit system. Universal public healthcare should be a human right everywhere, but greed for making a profit is ubiquitous now.

  7. shinola

    So, this Oliver Letwin person actually wrote a book titled “Privatising the World”. Think about it – he doesn’t even attempt to whitewash their intentions.

    The new Corporate Feudalism is coming to a theater near you soon!

    1. Allegorio

      Yes, Oliver Letwin, let that sink in for a moment. Banks can print infinite amounts of money which is then used to “Privatize the World”. You see it here, you see it there. By buying their own shares corporations are being taken private. This is the same thing that happened under Yelstin in Russia until Vladimir Putin put a stop to it. Yes the same Putin that is now being demonized by the bought and paid for media. Pray that Jeremy Corbyn has an upset victory.

      1. Allegorio

        It was Jeffrey Sachs who oversaw “shock therapy” in Yeltsin’s Russia. Let that sink in a while. Does anyone else see a pattern here? Workers were given shares in government enterprises. Banks who can print infinite amounts of money bought those shares from generally cash strapped workers and created the Russian oligarchy. See the unfolding pattern and who the main players are?

        1. juliania

          As I understand it, people against Brexit have appreciated the freedom of movement (ordinary people, that is, the ones who vote) which would be curtailed with Brexit finally operative.

          I don’t see anyone mentioning the increasing scare of freedom of movement from EU countries that have taken in so many fleeing the carnage in the countries to the south and east of Europe. Most of those are indeed needful refugees, but some are violent. And even if the violent acts we see happening are perpetrated by home grown citizens, the shock and awe repercussions have freedom of movement into their neighborhoods as I understand it. Sure it is good to have Greek doctors, but open borders to a tiny place like Britain in these fragile times seems asking for trouble.

          I’d be opting for freedom of movement around Britain and that’s it, were I voting there.

  8. TedWa

    I think Jeremy Corbin should be elected and save the health care system over there. I don’t know why not (?)

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