by Daphne Liddle

THE FIGHT to save the NHS is intensifying as the Health and Social Care Bill moved back into the House of Commons this week. At the same time veteran Liberal Democrat Baroness Shirley Williams resurrected all her party’s misgivings about the Bill by revealing leaked e-mails concerning negotiations between the Government and German private health companies about giving them contracts to manage 20 NHS hospitals.

This instantly gave the lie to all of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s protestations that the Bill would not lead to further privatisation of the NHS.

And it showed up the pretence of the “pause to listen”, which was all about fooling reluctant Lib-Dem backbenchers that the Government was actually listening to their concerns and that Nick Clegg actually some real influence within the Con-Dem Coalition.

Baroness Williams, writing in last Sunday’s Observer, raised a list of serious concerns. The most important of these is a legal reading of the Bill that could abolish the responsibility of the Health Secretary to deliver “a comprehensive health service for the people of England, free at the point of need”.

The dangers of further privatisation were increased by details of email exchanges involving senior health officials about handing the management of 10 to 20 NHS hospitals to international private companies.


The emails came to light from a freedom of information request made by non-profit-making investigations company Spinwatch. They show that officials have been planning since late last year to bring in international companies.

One email shows that the private company McKinsey, which advises the Government, has been in discussions about bringing in overseas firms to take over up to 20 hospitals in return for contracts running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

The emails show that McKinsey is acting as a broker between the department and “international players” bidding to run the NHS.

The emails reveal some of the conditions required by “international hospital provider groups” for running NHS hospitals.

“International players can do an initiative if £500 million revenue [is] on the table.”

They also need to have “a free hand on staff management”. The NHS would be allowed to “keep real estate and pensions”.

The Bill will also abolish any limits on the number of private patients NHS hospitals can treat. Privately run NHS trusts seeking to maximise their profits, will have a powerful motive to focus on private patients and leave non-paying patients at the end of lengthening queues.


Health service unions have responded by stepping up their campaigning. On Wednesday evening they organised a mass candlelit vigil in Westminster, following local protests in many towns, including Reading, London, Cambridge, Norwich, Sunderland, Jarrow, Manchester, Burnley, Brighton, Leeds and Portsmouth.

In Brighton, Councillor Gill Mitchell, Labour group leader on Brighton and Hove City Council, said the reforms could lead to a two-tier system, with poorer people being left worse-off. She said: “Today is the culmination of a campaign to raise awareness of the implications of what the Government is aiming to push through this coming week in terms of moving our NHS towards a US market-style model.


“We are particularly worried about the legal implications in that these new clinical commissioning groups, as they will be called, will be, by law, required to contract and tender from the private sector.

“We think it will lead to a two-tier system. We believe that people who are more well-off and can afford better healthcare insurance will end up getting a better service at the expense of poorer people.”

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “The public will not forgive Lib Dem MPs for colluding with the Tories to break up and privatise the NHS.

“People are rightly proud of an NHS that puts patient need before private profit, and voting through this Bill will be the end of the NHS as we know it.”

She also said: “Any MP who votes for the Health and Social Care Bill next week is voting for the end of the NHS.”

Unite national officer for health, Rachael Maskell, said: “David Cameron promised he would not privatise the NHS. Yet the Health and Social Care bill will open up lucrative NHS contracts to private healthcare companies whose main aim is to maximise profits for their shareholders.”