Private-Sector Outsourcing of UK Govt Healthcare Under Fire

Thursday, 27 Dec 2012 07:01 AM

By Todd Beamon

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While Obamacare pledges to keep healthcare costs down in the United States by involving more government — across the Atlantic, private-sector outsourcing of government healthcare to control costs is under fire.
 
And the focus of these protests is Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, the Wall Street Journal reports.
 
The company’s Virgin Care subsidiary has provided healthcare services for nearly three years to the National Health Service (NHS), a system that encompasses the four publicly financed healthcare groups in the United Kingdom.
 
Founded in 1948, the groups are in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Taxes, not insurance, pay for services — and the systems generally provide free healthcare to residents throughout Britain. Each healthcare system operates independently, and is managed by the government in which it operates.
 
But in recent years, NHS has been enlisting more private contractors to improve service and keep spiraling costs down, the Journal reports.
 
And that outsourcing is under fire by doctors, patients, and residents. The idea of private companies profiting from the cash-strapped NHS is not widely embraced, the Journal reports.
 
One of the most visible names in this effort is Virgin Care — and in recent months, healthcare workers have staged more than a dozen protests outside Virgin businesses, the Journal reports.
 
"Multinationals make their profits by driving down the working conditions of their employees and by cutting back on services," one protester, Jacky Davis, told the Journal. She is an NHS radiologist who helped organize one of the protests. "In both cases, patients are the losers."
 
Branson was unavailable for comment to the Journal, a spokesman said.
 
Virgin officials have said that parts of the NHS are so inefficient that there is more than enough room for both improved service and profits.
 
"We all know that the NHS can provide fantastic services a lot of the time, but on occasion they can also be improved," Bart Johnson, Virgin Care's chief executive, told the Journal.
 
The company aims to provide "better service for patients, more convenient service for patients and a good deal for the taxpayer as well," he said.
 
Virgin’s contracts require it to save the NHS certain sums of money before taking a profit itself, the Journal reports.

But NHS has been under fire in recent years over numerous instances of poor care, even malpractice.
 
For instance, a British court ordered one NHS hospital to pay a $663,000 settlement to more than 38 families after a lawsuit discovered years of malpractice, the Russian Times website reports.
 
The negligence included a 35-year-old patient who starved to death and reports of nurses mocking patients at the hospital in Worcestershire, England.
 
Of the 38 cases cited in the lawsuit, which covered 2002 to 2009, only five patients survived. The rest died in the hospital, the RT reports.
 
Meanwhile, Britain — like the United States — has been squeezed by soaring health-care costs and a rising budget deficit, leading NHS to cut costs.
 
In the mid-2000s, the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair began outsourcing healthcare services to private companies to try to save money and improve care.
 
But efforts have since accelerated under the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron, which this year passed legislation to bring in more private companies.
 
The NHS says private-sector contractors performed 4.3 percent of the elective hospital procedures it provided in fiscal 2012, the Journal reports.

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