Govt wants to privatise GP services, says doctors’ union

Yes, the BMA are on the offensive again. We have good reason to believe what they say – after all, the supposed attempt to improve access to NHS dentists ended with a reduced access. New Labour’s strategy is stealth – creeping privatisation under the guise of “efficiency” (effect: inefficiency) and reducing costs (effect: increased costs), but never with the intention declared: that being, the destruction of the welfare state and the enrichment of big business.

Please note, devolution in Scotland and Wales means it will be England that the government is targetting. I believe it would be much harder for our public services to be cut and privatised if there was an English parliament.

From The News Line:

The British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday rebutted the government’s attack on the BMA leadership over family doctors’ opening hours.

Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, warned that the attack on the BMA was a move to push through the takeover of GP practices by private health companies.

The BMA has sent out thousands of posters to practices, warning patients that the family doctor service is under threat.

The private companies are already moving in to take over NHS GP practices.

GPs and patients and local trade unionists last week demonstrated against the takeover of a practice in Bow, east London, by Atos Healthcare.

And doctors in Camden, north-west London, have been shocked by the announcement by Camden and Islington PCT that the contracts for three GP surgeries in the borough are going to US giant United Healthcare.

Dr Buckman said: ‘We think this argument over a few hours either way is really a softening up.

‘Patients are being prepared to view their GP as not very good and not very willing and not very flexible, and as a result to look kindly on the government’s currently favoured model which is that patients should receive general practice from polyclinics.’

Buckman was responding to the announcement that Health Secretary Alan Johnson is going over the head of the BMA and writing to every GP in England urging them to accept the government’s plans for extended surgery opening hours and comments by Health Minister Ben Bradshaw.

The government has said it will impose a settlement if agreement cannot be reached with the BMA.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw claimed that ‘the current leadership of the BMA don’t really speak for the profession at large’.

He further claimed: ‘They’ve misrepresented the negotiations and they’ve misrepresented the offer that the government is making.’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in London and member of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, angrily rejected the government’s allegations.

He told News Line: ‘We had actually agreed with the government’s own negotiating team a package of proposals that would allow us to provide extended hours as well as improve the quality of care to patients with other illnesses.

‘It is actually government that pulled the plug on that agreement and it is trying to put forward proposals that we believe will work against patients rather than for patients.’

And from Socialist Worker:

NHS privatisation: the ‘sicko’ firms who are after your GP surgery
by Yuri Prasad

Multinational firms have got their eyes on your local doctor’s surgery.

The companies that have plundered health service budgets, forcing the NHS to buy their private services, now want to extend their reach.

After the government invited the private sector to provide GPs, some of the biggest names in US health insurance are being joined by other multi-nationals, like the Virgin group, in an attempt to muscle in get contracts.

GPs from across Tower Hamlets, in east London, were joined by patients in a 150-strong protest on Thursday of last week against a decision by the local primary care trust (PCT) to hand the St Paul’s Way medical centre to Atos Healthcare.

Atos Healthcare is a subsidiary of a French-based computer firm with only a limited experience of healthcare, much of which has been gained helping institutions “manage absenteeism”.

It is now planning to buy-up as many surgeries as it can muster.

Expertise

In the past, when a GP retired or moved on, doctors from the surrounding area would be invited to manage the vacant practice because it was assumed they had local knowledge and expertise.

In the case of St Paul’s Way, however, the PCT rejected bids from two successful local practices because a private firm had undercut them.

Dr Rahim, who is from Chrisp Street health centre, which bid to run the surgery, is angry at the tendering process.

“They say that Atos won the bid because it was so cheap,” he told Socialist Worker.

“But the only way Atos’s bid could be so low is that it has underestimated the amount of resources it takes to provide good healthcare in an area as poor as Tower Hamlets.

“Now I worry about the quality of care that the 11,000 patients at this surgery will receive.”

Shamsuz Zaman, who joined the protest, agrees. He has been a patient at St Paul’s Way for the past 15 years.

He told Socialist Worker that the level of service at the surgery plummeted about a year ago after the previous doctor left and the PCT took over the running of the surgery directly.

Consultation

“We’ve had a year when it has been almost impossible to make an appointment, and even when you could, you rarely saw the same doctor twice,” he said.

“There has been almost no consultation with the patients about the sell-off, and many of us think that things will get even worse when the surgery is run by a private company.”

Following the announcement of Atos’s victory, Tower Hamlets GP Forum last week overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the PCT.

“We are all extremely angry about what has happened here,” said Dr Rahim.

“But we know that this is a government policy, and the same thing is happening elsewhere in the country.”

It was announced last week that three surgeries in Camden, north London, are to be transferred to United Healthcare – the largest profit making health insurance company in the US.

It is believed that United Healthcare undercut all rival bids by charging £70 per patient, rather than the £100 budgeted in proposals from local doctors.

Dr Stephen Graham, told the Camden New Journal newspaper that a bid from his surgery had been rejected.

“We offered the benefits of a smaller practice, where people get to know their GPs and we know the areas’ needs,” he said.

“But now cost-cutting has won hands down over quality of service provision.”

Many local NHS campaigners believe that United Healthcare put in a bid it knew it could make little profit from as a “loss leader” hoping that this will “open up the market” to private providers.

A former boss of United Healthcare, Chan Wheeler, is now the commercial director of the department of health.

While health workers have been told to tighten their belts, Wheeler is set to receive £320,000 this year in order to push an agenda of privatisation in the NHS.

United Healthcare, which has been convicted of fraud in a variety of cases, is strongly linked to the US Republican Party.

With so much money to be made, it is no wonder that firms are queuing up for their share.

Vultures

Richard Branson’s Virgin group is set to launch a bid to run health centres with a host of private “extras” to be pushed on patients.

Dr Anna Livingstone, who helped organise the protest in Tower Hamlets, told Socialist Worker that anger at the private sector vultures circling the NHS is leading to the possibility of demonstrations across Britain.

“Doctors are angry because we are working harder than ever to try and provide a good public service to people who desperately need it,” she said.

“Patients are angry because they see public money being used to line the pockets of multinationals, while the NHS is starved of resources.

“People don’t want their doctors’ surgeries to become like supermarkets.”

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