Britain PLC

Monday, 01 October 2012

The coalition government has again shamelessly duped Britons – this time with the help of the BBC.  It is carving-up the National Health Service (NHS) – the most highly regarded institution in the country –and selling off the juiciest pieces to any willing buyer. The scam is part of the project to privatise all public services. The government claims marketisation will ensure better and cheaper services. There’s no proof for the proposition and many believe the corporate takeover is just another milestone on the road to fascism.

Two years ago, Prime Minister David Cameron assured voters the Conservative Party would not re-organise the £100 billion plus NHS if elected. The coalition formed with the Liberal Democrats repeated the pledge. Just weeks later, Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley introduced an NHS bill proposing sweeping changes. A UK court noted the glaring absence of a democratic mandate and legitimacy.

“From the evidence it is clear that the NHS reforms were introduced in an exceptional way. There was no indication prior to the White Paper that such wide-ranging reforms were being considered. The White Paper was published without prior consultation. It was published within a very short period after the Coalition Government came into power… Even more significantly the Government decided to press ahead with some of the policies even before laying a Bill before Parliament.”

Despite public protests and opposition from the medical profession the Health and Social Care Act, effectively privatising the NHS, became law in March this year. Researchers have found that the BBC played a vital role in ensuring the passage of the Act by propagating the government line, censoring serious criticism and ignoring the financial links between politicians and the health industry.

Andrew Robertson at the “Social Investigations” blog compiled a list showing details of 140 Lords and 65 MPs from across all three parties with direct interests in private healthcare.  In April, he wrote to Helen Boaden, head of news at the BBC asking why these financial interests had not been investigated.  He specifically mentioned Mr Lansley’s connection with a multi-million pound residential care corporation. “Furthermore, why, when Andrew Lansley has been outed as having been bankrolled by the chairman of CareUK, was this not raised with him whenever he spoke of the bill?”

Low Associates, a company run by Mr Lansley’s wife, Sally Low, also escaped scrutiny although its business is advising on privatisation. Labour MP Grahame Morris said it constituted a “clear conflict of interest” making the Health Secretary’s position untenable. There were other equally troubling appointments.

David Bennett leads Monitor the independent body tasked with regulating aspects of the privatisation process. His former employer, Mckinsey is a global consultant on the outsourcing of public services.  It spent £6000 entertaining David when he joined Monitor. Many of the NHS bill’s proposals were drawn up by McKinsey and included in the legislation wholesale. McKinsey, which has earned at least £13.8 million from the coalition so far, will be able to secure chunks of the NHS budget for its corporate clients.

Lord Carter of Coles, head of the NHS regulator, the Co-operation and Competition Panel has a considerable stake in private health care. He was chair of the American healthcare firm, McKesson and last year received £799,000 for just one of the many healthcare positions he filled.

In March leaks appeared suggesting that the real aim of the bill was to privatise the NHS. The BBC stuck to its line that the bill was about empowering GPs, to which it sometimes added “and there will be a greater role for the private sector”. Six months later journalist Oliver Huitson sifted through the coverage and found the BBC had ignored all these issues and betrayed the NHS.  The BBC “blackout” extended to the climax on March 19 when the bill was finally passed in the House of Lords. A petition including 486,000 signatures brought to the House and calling for the bill to be delayed was not reported by the BBC nor was there a single article on the bill becoming law.

Huitson’s conclusion is that the BBC was unwilling to tell its audience what was really happening and concealed the role of the private sector. It frequently cited private healthcare lobbying organisations – which stand to make billions from the privatisation of the NHS – as credible and impartial sources but banned the most qualified and widely cited critics in the country. “All considered, fear, compliance and a misguided vision of self-interest seem to have left the BBC incapable of challenging abuses of governance.”

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games – beamed into British homes by the BBC – included a lavish tribute to the NHS involving more than a thousand participants. The reason is straightforward and the hypocrisy plain; the NHS was inspired by the ideal of freely available, universal healthcare based on clinical need. It remains a symbol of a society in which human values matter. But it is also an obstacle to the construction of the corporate state. The passing of the Health and Social Care Act is very much a smash and grab operation. Mr Lansley admitted as much before losing his job in a cabinet reshuffle in September.“So it all had to be put into legislation to nail it down… [so that] things would not change just at the behest of a change of secretary of state, or even more a change of government”.

Despite this pre-emptive strike, there may still be a battle to be fought. The Hackney Gazette covered one of the stories the BBC ignored. It reported that a privately-run NHS clinic in the London borough had refused treatment to a 76-year-old man who was later diagnosed with potentially deadly meningitis. Care UK, which ran the centre refused to treat him as they had already fulfilled their “quota”.  There’s every chance that the government will have to quell a disturbance or two in the coming months as Britons find they have to pay for treatment they can’t afford in times of austerity.

The coalition will, however, have the huge advantage of the BBC operating as a state rather than public broadcaster. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has demonstrated how easy it is to field the most difficult questions on BBC programmes these days.  Asked why he had broken an election pledge and voted to raise university tuition fees he said, ‘‘I still haven’t heard an apology …for the illegal invasion of Iraq.’’  Perhaps he’s also waiting for Tony Blair to apologise for the destruction of Iraq’s health system.

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