Fightback against privatisation grows

One (via the Guardian):

The first private company to take over an NHS hospital has admitted in a document seen by the Observer that patient care could suffer under its plans to expand its empire and seek profit from the health service.

Circle Health is already feeling a strain on resources due to its aggressive business strategy, the document reveals, and the firm’s ambition to further expand into the NHS “could affect its ability to provide a consistent level of service to its patients”, it says.

The company, run by a former Goldman Sachs banker, was awarded management of Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire last week in a ground-reaking move lauded by ministers as a “good deal for patients and staff”.

However, the government was forced to answer an urgent question in the Commons after the move sparked furious accusations that the deal was privatising the NHS and putting jobs and health services in jeopardy. Concerns over the future of the health service were further heightened when David Cameron, in a speech on regulation and the economy, said he wanted the NHS to be a “fantastic business for Britain”.

The revelation that the company shares some of the fears of its critics has caused fresh uproar.

The head of health at the public sector union Unison, Christina McAnea, said it was an admission of the danger of bringing profit-seeking organisations into the health service. She said: “What they are saying, in black and white, is what we have been saying all along: that introducing profit into the NHS risks putting patient services under strain. This is a very real fear for patients at Hinchingbrooke hospital.

“If the company is allowed to expand into the NHS as the government brings in its reforms through the Health and Social Care Bill this, it appears, could put many more patients at risk.”

Two (via the Guardian):

The privatisation of public services has been branded a scandal by unions who say that leaked tender documents reveal that the opening-up of the prison system to competition is “heavily biased” in favour of private firms.

The Ministry of Justice has introduced competitive tendering for five jails as ministers seek to expand the role of the private sector. They claim that competition will result in more efficient services and a better deal for the taxpayer, but unions fear that it will result in widespread redundancies, poorer working conditions and reduced pensions for workers.

Prison governors warn that expanding the private sector’s role in the custodial system will create a profit-maximising culture that favours incarceration and cutbacks to rehabilitation.

Internal documents seen by the Observer show that the in-house public sector teams seeking to run the first five prisons subjected to the new competition process were forced to increase the total cost of their bids by more than 21%. An earlier document, in 2009, forced an increase of only 13%.

Unions claim the substantial “add-ons” rendered the public sector bids uncompetitive compared with those put forward by their private sector rivals. The Principles Of Competition document, updated in August 2010, applies to Birmingham, Buckley Hall, Doncaster, Featherstone II and Wellingborough prisons.

The document’s terms have prompted claims that Tory ministers are seeking to outsource the entire prison system to the private sector. Currently in the UK, there are 13 private prisons holding 15% of the incarcerated population.

Prison privatisation is no longer based on efficiency, it’s now ideological,” said Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union, Napo. “It’s extraordinary that the public sector is forced to take into account huge additional costs. It puts public prisons at a total disadvantage. If this continues, there will be no state-run prisons in five years.”

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