Who’s Watching Our Healthcare Services?

by Michael Barker

The newly-launched "consumer champion for health and social care in England" is packed with free market zealots and designed to be toothless from the outset.

First published: 03 April, 2013 | Category: Corporate power, Health, Privatisation

On 28 February, Jill Mountford interviewed Dr Lucy Reynolds — a research fellow at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine — who in the course of a 70 minute interview provided a clear-headed critique of the ongoing dismantling of the NHS.

As part of this bipartisan onslaught, Reynolds discusses the nature of faux regulatory bodies that have ostensibly been set up to provide public accountability. A prime example is the Care Quality Commission, which was set up in 2009 by then prime minister, Gordon Brown, who wanted, not to improve regulation, but just to cut the cost of regulation. Following in its wake, and officially launched this week as “the new, independent consumer champion for health and social care in England”, HealthWatch England is just the latest toxic spawn from the Care Quality Commission. Approximately 50 minutes into her enlightening interview Reynolds provides a succinct overview of this tragic public (mis)venture, stating that:

“HealthWatch is a replacement for I think what were called LINks, which also seem to have been rather less effective from the fact that their management was outsourced to the private sector some time ago: so they were already very much captured, because they were being run by the private healthcare industry. But HealthWatch England is even weaker. If you look at what it’s allowed to do; it’s not allowed to question health care policy or the implications of health care policy, and its rights are limited to the right to compose and send a letter. There is no right to have the letter answered, or actioned, but they are allowed to write letters.

“So this is the system whereby the public will be able to ensure that the NHS works in an appropriate manner. So I think you can assume that all of the accountability mechanisms are going to be like that: they put them in because that will convince people that it’s all very democratic, but actually when you look at what recourse those organisations have, it is very very plain that they have all been set up to be toothless in the first place. Furthermore, HealthWatch England has been set up as a sub-group of the Care Quality Commission — that continually scandal-hit organization, which is failing to do quality inspections in an appropriate manner. They are understaffed, most of their inspectors have got no medical training, and they don’t seem to think it is very important to have medically qualified people. What they are there to do is to tick the box that the regulation has been done. And it is not desirable for the people who are behind all these reforms, of course, that the regulations actually be done. So then you have got the situation where the public regulator, HeathWatch England, is a sub-set of the Care Quality Commission, under the control of the Care Quality Commission, and of course anything that HealthWatch England is going to be complaining about already represents a failure of function of their parent body. How much are they really going to be allowed to do anything about it?

“The whole thing is really very neatly sewn up, so that it looks like an accountability mechanism, but cannot be operated as one. This is why I say that if we actually want to get the NHS back we must stop having faith in following the systems as they have been set up, because the whole thing is stacked so we will definitely lose. We need to make enough disturbance to all this so we can force things to start being done in a different way, because the current system is completely hopeless. You cannot succeed by using it. If you want clear accountability for the NHS, then you don’t try doing it though HealthWatch, I would recommend that the local newspaper would be much more effective.”

The privatising zealot who has just assumed the head of the Care Quality Commission is the former chief executive of the Conservative Party, David Prior. Until 2001, Prior had been a Conservative MP for North Norfolk, after which he spent the next 11 years as the chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital — which happened to be the first highly profitable (for some anyway) private finance initiative (PFI) hospital scheme to be forced into the body politic of the NHS.

Up until recently Prior has served as the chairman of Aurelian Oil & Gas plc, a company whose work is focused on the re-emerging Central and Eastern European oil and gas markets.

Not content with facilitating the privatisation of the NHS, Prior is on a similar mission when it comes to our schools, as he is the chairman of the board of governors of Ormiston Victory Academy; where he serves alongside his Eton-educated chum Matthew Fleming — the cricket-loving nephew of Ian “007” Fleming – who just so happens to be a board member of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Fleming is also a Director of FF&P Private Equity, whose prestigious board rooms allow him to rub shoulders with FF&P’s recent chairman Sir John Craven, who recently served for 12 years as the chairman of the blood-soaked Lonmin mining enterprise (from 1997 until 2009).

Ormiston Victory Academy is just one of the twenty or so academies set-up by the Ormiston Academies Trust. This Trust’s recent chief executive, Ian Cleland, now serves as a trustee of the Academy Transformation Trust (alongside the likes of Labour’s right-wing education czar, Lord Adonis), and to top off his “educational” connections resides on the advisory board of the New Schools Network – which is headed by Michael Gove’s former adviser, Rachel Wolf.

Leading Norfolk businessman and current board member of the Department for Education,[1] Theodore Agnew, is a trustee of the aforementioned New Schools Network, and unsurprisingly given this connection, he is a trustee of Michael Gove’s old haunt, the self-styled ‘education charity’ Policy Exchange. Agnew likewise works closely with David Prior himself, as he is a governor of the soon-to-be opened Sir Isaac Newton Free School, whose board is chaired by Prior. Not wanting to exclude any of his Tory buddies, former McKinsey partner cum Conservative Party chief executive and founder of Policy Exchange, Archie Norman, is also counted as a treasured member of the Sir Isaac Newton Free School’s founding advisory board.

Of course none of this profiteering prevents HeathWatch England from attracting all manner of dreary liberals to its ranks. Thus HealthWatch’s chief executive is Dr Katherine Rake OBE, the former head of the Fawcett Society; while their committee is home to the likes of John Carvel (the former social affairs editor of The Guardian), and is chaired by long-standing consumer advocate Anna Bradley. Why should we expect less when one considers the key role being played by the Labour Party in destroying our NHS?

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK and blogs at http://michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com/.


[1] A notable recent board member of the Department for Education is the former chairman of the British Venture Capital Association, John Nash: a man who is also the former chairman of one of the biggest private providers of NHS treatments, Care UK plc (for detailed criticisms of Care UK, see my earlier article “Caring For Profit”).

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