The NHS is quietly being put through one of its biggest “transformations” in recent history. And in a timely move, a video of Jeremy Hunt has been released explaining what trajectory these changes put our public health service on.
We are heading full speed ahead towards the US model of healthcare, and once we arrive the NHS as we know it will be officially dead.
In the video, which was created by the Keep Our St Helier Hospital campaign, Hunt is asked about the current tariff system in UK healthcare. Tariffs are how medical services are paid for providing healthcare to patients. Hunt expresses a dissatisfaction with the current system, and notes that one future option is:
finding a way forward to the kind of budgetary arrangements you would have in Valencia or Kaiser Permanente
These are US companies, and Hunt’s suggestion that we could look to Kaiser Permanente as a model arrangement is very troubling.
A SICKO Company
Kaiser Permanente is the largest Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO) in the USA. As the country has no universal healthcare system, HMOs provide medical insurance and access to healthcare facilities for their customers. Essentially, they establish a ‘network’ through which patients pay for and gain access to treatment.
Although mainly non-profit organisations, such entities take great efforts to keep costs down. This allows them to build up massive amounts of cash reserves and pay senior staff handsomely.
As the video identifies, Kaiser was one of the companies detailed in Michael Moore’s 2009 film SiCKO. This movie documents how a woman, who was fully insured through the company, tragically lost her child.
Her child was taken desperately ill one evening, and she called an ambulance. The paramedics naturally drove her to the nearest hospital, but when the hospital contacted Kaiser to obtain permission to treat the child, it was refused. Instead, Kaiser insisted the child would have to be taken to an “in network” Kaiser-owned hospital.
This ‘network’ system based on keeping the costs of treatment low ended up costing the life of the child.
The ‘footprints’ no-one sees
The Conservative government has already moved towards implementing a similar model in the NHS. It has introduced “Sustainability and Transformation Plans” which carve up the NHS into 44 regions, known as ‘footprints’. And these ‘footprints’, or ‘networks’, have been tasked with creating a “Five Year Forward View” that sets out how they will bring themselves into financial balance by 2017. Open Democracy has noted that:
For England as a whole, this means cuts amounting to £2.3billion.
If ‘footprints’ don’t succeed in creating financial balance, they will be cut off from access to money from other funding streams, providing a serious incentive to ensure they do so.
This new system has been conceived under the leadership of Simon Stevens. The current NHS boss worked in the US previously for healthcare giant UnitedHealth, which already has a foothold in the outsourced NHS services in the UK. Clearly, Stevens’ history is playing a part in his new vision for the NHS, and the brave new world he has created for our health service comes with serious dangers.
It’s not ‘National’ anymore
NHS services are now, in part, contracted out to private companies. The creation of distinct ‘footprints’ could see such private interests gobbling up whole areas of the country, making it increasingly difficult to bring the service back into public hands for future governments.
If each of the 44 areas are held over the fire to ensure they live within their ‘financial balance’, will we see Kaiser-like scenarios arising in the UK? If budgets are rigid and localised, what happens when someone falls ill outside of their ‘footprint’ area? Or arrives in a critical condition at a non-network hospital? As detailed above, in the USA this can mean you are refused treatment. So if this is the future of the NHS, the word ‘national’ will have been definitively removed from the equation.
These changes are seemingly being introduced to minimise the funding needed for healthcare in the UK. But they run the risk of completing the dismantlement of the NHS as we understand it. It will inevitably lead to the closing of hospitals and services, as areas try to live within the measly means their funding provides, and our access to healthcare will be under threat.
This process of undoing has been a long time in the making, promoted by successive governments. But this latest move sets the NHS on a path which defies its very definition. There could be no better proof it is under attack.
– Sign the petition against these destructive plans.
– Take action with Keep Our NHS Public.
Featured image via Youtube