Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Health Campaigners' News

The latest Health Campaigners' News from Keep Our NHS Public and the NHS Support Federation contains a range of interesting stuff.

Amongst items that caught my eye were the following -

NHS London patient survey
NHS London is conducting a strategic review, to improve three aspects of NHS care in London: patient safety, clinical quality, and the patient experience. The survey deadline is Tuesday 18 March, so if you live in London, or access London NHS services, complete the survey to call for adequate resources to improve all levels of NHS services.
Complete the survey here.

Confuse & conceal - the NHS and independent sector treatment centres by Stewart Player and Colin Leys

A devastating analysis of the independent sector treatment centre programme and the reaction of the Health Select Committee's investigation into the programme. Available to KONP members from Keep Our NHS Public, 19 Vincent Terrace, London, N1 8HN at a discounted price of £10 per copy including postage and packing (full price £11.95 in book shops). Send your order with a cheque made payable to KONP.

Virgin Healthcare - what's been happening?

As reported in the last Health Campaigners' News, Virgin Healthcare have launched a roadshow around the country targeted at GPs and clinical staff with the aim of encouraging GPs to join the private company's new health centres. While these Virgin branded health centres are being promoted as a means of meeting staff and rental costs, the other side of the deal will be the siting of for-profit healthcare services alongside NHS general practice. Unison has expressed serious concern that Virgin Healthcare's products will be marketed to vulnerable patients.

Now that the roadshow to 26 locations has begun, activists who have attended events have been finding out what Virgin are saying. Details have been fairly hard to find, with just a reiteration that the company will provide buildings and rent space to GP practices. At one roadshow session a campaigner learned that space would be rented at the same cost per square foot that GPs are currently paying.

Virgin would employ all non-clinical staff, and most significantly staff would have to leave the NHS pension scheme with the replacement Virgin pension plan not being a final salary scheme. The non-clinical staff (e.g. managers, receptionists, cleaners) currently employed by a GP practice which then joins a Virgin health centre would be subject to Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE). Staff transferred in this way would lose NHS pay, terms and conditions as well as pension rights.

GPs in a Virgin health centre would share 10% of the centre's profit for contributing to the Virgin brand. This, of course, would not involve referral of patients to the Virgin practitioners (dentists et al) at the health centre! The planned services at the new health centres are thought to include dentists (private only), pharmacists, podiatrists, counsellors and laser eye surgery. It seems that Virgin also wants to offer local diagnostics, pathology and maybe imaging, which could take funds and staff from the local NHS hospital. It is interesting to see that there is little difference between Virgin's plans and the "polyclinic" proposals of Lord Darzi.

The roadshow event at Manchester was greeted with a lively protest from local campaigners, three of whom attended the presentation. The impression gained was that Virgin's main interest in courting GP practices was to act as a draw to patients who could then be turned into paying customers for the various products and services on offer. This mirrors Unison's concern about marketing to the vulnerable.

At Peterborough, TUC pickets seemed to cause the Virgin organisers some annoyance, and questions from the floor were only accepted from GPs or practice managers.

At Colgate, West Sussex, Unison and KONP activists picketed the event. After the event manager tried to expel the campaigners (even calling the police) and denied them entry to the presentation (despite bookings having been made) the clinical director eventually agreed to answer questions from one of the campaigners, Zena Dodgson. While very little new information was forthcoming from this private audience, the clinical director did say that GPs might be financially compensated for taking on extra work as requested by Virgin Healthcare.

Other roadshow events have been happening around the country, with pickets at a number of them and members of the public asking for leaflets explaining Virgin's intentions. If you have any reports from this travelling circus email and we'll post them on the NHS Support Federation website.

Our healthcare, who cares?

NHS Support Federation has put together a brief summary of the Government's private sector reforms of the NHS covering commissioning, PFI, Independent Sector Treatment Centres, polyclinics and out-of-hours GP services.

In the spotlight - Camden surgeries handed to United Health

Contracts for three of Camden's GP surgeries have been given to United Health, the American healthcare giant. The three surgeries, Brunswick Medical Centre in Bloomsbury, the King's Cross Road Practice and the Camden Road Surgery in Camden Town, have a total of 4,500 patients. The handing of the contracts to United Health attracted immediate and widespread opposition, with former Health Secretary Frank Dobson joining local councillors, Camden and Islington Local Medical Committee, KONP and many others in their condemnation of the move. Failed bids for the contracts came from GPs who had been running the surgeries, and a non-profit cooperative of 300 local GPs. The government had said that private companies would only be considered where there was no alternative.

Fears that private companies are being awarded contracts for GP surgeries simply on the basis of cost seems to be borne out by news that United Health won the Camden contracts on "value for money" tests but not on service. Indeed, the group of GPs also bidding were judged to offer a superior service, but were seemingly undercut by the private provider.

A local resident, Barbara Saunders, is challenging the PCT, arguing that patients were not properly consulted. The original consultation had not mentioned that a private company was under consideration for the contracts. Ms Saunders' legal challenge is being led by Richard Stein of Leigh Day solicitors who successfully appealed against the award of a similar contract to United Health in Derbyshire in 2006.

In early March a health scrutiny committee meeting attended by over 60 resulted in the PCT reluctantly agreeing to hold a public meeting after urging from councillors. At the public meeting in the PCT's headquarters hurriedly arranged for 10 March, it emerged that the contracts have not yet been signed, and that there are now two legal challenges to the PCT's decision, with the doctors from the Brunswick Street surgery joining the fray to stop the plans. Camden PCT maintains that all consultation procedures have been correctly followed and is adamant that United Health remains the preferred bidder. So the battle to save the surgeries from the privateers continues.

Dates for your diary

Lobby of Virgin Healthcare, Bristol

Wednesday 19 March 7pm. Hilton Hotel, Aztec West, Bristol

The lobby has been called by the Avon Mental Health branch of UNISON, supported by the Central Bristol Health branch of UNISON, and also by UNITE Bristol Health. Join supporters of Bristol Keep Our NHS Public at the lobby.

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