New EU Health Regulations – improving patients’ rights or more NHS privatisation in disguise?

It is appalling that the recent NHS privatisation regulations have now been passed, despite a broad-based and vigorous campaign against them.

The Regulations, made under Section 75 of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, essentially require all NHS services to be put out to competition unless there is only one provider capable of delivering them.

As Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, has pointed out, with these changes the legal framework for a publicly provided, publicly managed, publicly planned and democratically accountable health service has been removed.

At a UK level, the only solution to this situation now is for an incoming Labour Government to reverse comprehensively the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and associated secondary legislation. But we must also go further and seek to re-examine and eliminate the purchaser / provider split wherever we can and in whatever timescale is feasible.

Against this background it remains important in the meantime that we are vigilant about European Union legislation that can impact negatively on our public services, health included.

To give one current example, the Department of Health is currently consulting until 24 May on the draft NHS (Cross-Border Health Care) Regulations 2013.

Although health services are largely excluded from EU competence, there have been moves for many years to try and open up the single market approach to healthcare provision, and to let in more competition by private providers based in other member states.

EU citizens already can obtain European Health Insurance Cards to ensure they can get urgent medical treatment when in another member state. So far, so good.

And the new draft Cross-Border Health Care Regulations are aiming to bring into force a 2011 EU Directive that gives patients ostensibly reasonable sounding rights to access planned healthcare treatment in other European countries.

But in reality, the Regulations do little more for patients than clarify rights in existing EU legislation and case law. They certainly do not address the problems of widening health inequalities within the EU, and the fact that those from poorer countries will still not be enabled to access much needed specialist treatment elsewhere.

And buried in the impact assessment accompanying these official regulations (at p.23), there is a section explaining the real drivers. This section emphasises the potential for increasing competition amongst UK and EU healthcare providers and diversifying income streams for domestic private providers.

It is vital that Labour and other concerned campaigners lobby to get the regulations changed so that the Directive is brought into effect in the least damaging way possible. One option would be to argue that prior authorisation procedures should have the highest possible safeguards against funding private treatment overseas and it should not be authorised unless the NHS is incapable of providing the required treatment.

In the longer term, these regulations illustrate yet again that Labour and Socialist MEPs must work together to change the basis of the EU attitude on public services to one of solidarity and fair access for citizens and not as a market for companies to make profits.

Lucy Anderson is a Labour MEP candidate for London and a member of Labour’s National Policy Forum Health and Care Commission

Budget week protests build towards People’s Assembly

The TUC’s Pre-Budget Rally heralds a week of planning and protest against the Tory government’s austerity agenda.

Anti-cuts campaigns are springing up everywhere to oppose the bedroom tax, save hospitals, keep fire stations open, defend education.

In all cases local Labour parties and Labour MPs are showing their support and defending public services for local communities.

This new mood of opposition to Tory cuts needs to be translated into a new Labour economic policy that tears apart austerity and makes a clear and reasoned case for government-led investment to create jobs and growth.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, called by the Coalition of Resistance, takes place on 22nd June and is rapidly gathering support. As Owen Jones wrote at the weekend, the Assembly ‘aims to unite all opponents of austerity in one movement’ and Labour members should get involved in.

Register today: People’s Assembly – Against Austerity


Budget Week of Protest

Wednesday 13th March
London Region of the NUT  Gove Must Go protest
5pm, Cathedral Piazza, Victoria St

TUC Pre-Budget Rally
6pm, Emmanuel Centre, Marsham St

Thursday 14th March
Save Westminster Fire Station public meeting
6pm, Mary Sumner House, Tufton St

Saturday 16th March
Labour members will be joining over 50 protests against the bedroom tax this Saturday.

Camden, Islington and Haringey Labour and London Young Labour are joining the Save the Whittington protest.
11.30, Highbury Corner

March to save Clapham Fire Station
12 noon, Clapham Common

Monday 18th March
Planning meeting for a London-wide Save Our Hospitals protest
6.30pm, Camden Town Hall, Judd St

Tuesday 19th March
Bring Back EMA campaign has called a Budget Day of Action

Wednesday 20th March
PCS Budget Day Strike and Rally
12-2pm, Old Palace Yard, Abingdon St

Budget Day Protest
Coalition of Resistance and Unite the Resistance
5.30pm march from Kings College to Downing St



An ideological assault on the National Health Service

So, as widely reported, on the day the Government thought they could bury bad news they decided to announce the privatisation of eight areas of mental and community health. By September 2012 choice of three providers will have to be offered in local areas in the following services; back and neck pain; adult hearing services in the community; continence services (adults and children); diagnostic testing; wheelchair services for children); leg ulcer and wound healing; ‘talking therapies’ for adults and podiatry services. This all amounts to the opening up of a £1billion market to the private sector to profit from.

This latest announcement comes before the passing of the Health and Social Care Bill, which sets in train the privatising of the whole of our NHS, and after repeated assertions from Ministers that there would be no ‘selling off’ of our NHS. This latest move has been introduced under what is called the ‘any qualified provider’ principle which doesn’t require legislation to enact. Under this vision patients and service users will act as consumers, choosing which service provider they will ‘buy’ from. Who they pick will receive a payment for the delivery of this service from what we can still call the NHS budget pot.

What will this mean in practice? Each service will be working as a business, generating its income stream as it attracts patients and service users – a service won’t be able to plan or invest in advance as it will have no guarantees on levels of income or number of patients. Sharing best practice and innovations with other service providers means losing a competitive advantage and possibly threatening the future of your business. It raises the spectre of health services who do not attract enough patients and users going bust – as Southern Care has done. Those most likely to attract more patients and users are those with advertising budgets, such as Serco, Capita, UnitedHealth, Bupa and others who will be taking a public payment and creaming off a profit. And to make this profit as big as possible, corners will be cut, services run on threadbare resources, staff numbers reduced and wages cut. This is before we turn to the transactional costs – contracting, invoicing, lawyers fees and so on – in running such a market.

It is useful to look around at what else the Government is up to if clarity, if any were needed, on their future plans for the NHS. The publication of the White Paper on the future of public services omits only the military, core policing, intelligence services and judges as the areas where ‘commissioning’ (contracting out) is not appropriate – though support and specialist functions in these areas are cited as potentials for privatisation. The universal, comprehensive principle of the NHS was fought for and won by generations of working people and now faces destruction. The privatisation of the NHS, through whichever route the Government opens up, needs to be clearly opposed. It is an ideological assault that sees health as a private commodity, not a public good and basic human right.