Private Healthcare Does Not Benefit Students.

Students and local residents from South Birmingham have unfurled banners across five of their houses on the Pershore road along the route of the Bupa Great Birmingham Run to voice their disgust at the privatisation of the NHS. Approximately fifteen thousand runners saw these giant signs which are a cry to save the national healthcare system from private hands, including BUPA who are the sponsors of the half marathon. The community are distressed at the prospect of a private NHS and the effects this may have upon their local hospital.

Not only did the BUPA Run cut right through the heart of South Birmingham but The Chair of the Trustee Board for the Guild of Students Andrew Vallance Owen was a senior executive at BUPA until this spring. He is now a freelance private health consultant and has acted as a strong advocate for the privatisation of the NHS. It’s hard to look at the weak arguments presented by executives (such as ‘‘providing better car parking than the public sector’) and not wonder if there is something more than meets the eye. In fact there is, the basis of the privatisation of the NHS, one of the best quality and best value health care providers in the world, is no more than institutional greed of corporations. There is an almost direct correlation between donations made to the Tory party and which firms receive NHS contracts. All major contracts above 20m have gone to companies which tories donors are stakeholders and the top ten private healthcare companies have contributed 10m to the Conservatives and received 5bn in contracts in return, a swiftly ballooning figure.

One of Andrew Vallance Owens main achievements during his seventeen-year tenure as Group Medical Director at BUPA was introducing a market based ratings mechanism similar to the National Student Survey called PROMs. The Patient-Reported Outcome Measures are based not just clinical outcomes, but patients’ perceptions of the care they have received and are used as the basis for future changes made to health services.

PROMs are an integral part of the drive towards marketisation of the NHS. They provide a “customer focused” measure that is easily comparable and provides a way for patients to choose between different providers. The problem is that setting up something like a PROM as the definitive measure of quality leads to perverse incentives; especially in private providers exclusively geared towards profit. Lay people just do not understand medical procedures; we would find it almost impossible to judge how well our surgery has gone or what is the most effective method for treating Kidney failure.

What we can judge is the outcome of procedures and non-essential aspects of delivery. That is to say we can tell that a procedure hasn’t worked but not whether the doctor has followed the best method and been unlucky, or has made a mistake. We can judge the quality of the car parking at the hospital but not the quality of the X-ray procedure. This leads to providers attempting to game PROMs by providing cheap non essential services such as improved car parking; but more importantly it erodes the relationship of trust between doctor and patient. If you know that your doctor is under pressure to maximise their PROMs how can you trust that their advice is genuine and not an attempt to make you feel more satisfied. There are direct parallels between PROMs and the NSS; the marketisation of health and the marketisation of education that is our union is supposed to be fighting against.

Vallance Owen stands to gain lots from a private money in the NHS, whilst students don’t, it will lead to a clunkier more expensive and lower value health service. As such, these interests conflict with the interests of students, most of whom rely on the NHS for their welfare. It is improper for the Chair of the Trustee Board of an organisation committed to the interests of students to actively lobby for the privatisation of the NHS. It is a conflict of interest that compromises his neutrality and ability to protect all students, especially those in Medicine, Nursing and Biosciences, who will be most directly affected.
Furthermore, the involvement of BUPA in the NHS, spearheaded by Vallance-Owen, will result in the more profitable procedures and postcode areas seeing increased private involvement whilst less profitable services such as the ones students rely on mostly, such as the drop in centre in Selly Oak being avoided because they provide lower returns.

The privatisation of the NHS, at the hands of the coalition government has already been the cause of 42,000 job losses as of September 2012 with more on their way, and this has come at the expense of lower standards of care for patients. In 2012, every major private healthcare provider (Virgin, Serco, Care UK, Circle, Spire, BMI, BUPA and Barchester have failed Care Quality Commission Inspections). Virgin, for example, left its patients lying in their own urine.

The irony of a giant private healthcare company plowing millions into media extravaganzas such as the BUPA Great Birmingham whilst it provides sub par care conditions and contributes to job losses is an irony not lost on the local Stirchley community. What needs to be understood by Vallance Owen, Landsley, Hunt and their ilk is that the vast, vast majority of people want the NHS kept public and that they aren’t winning any hearts by buying the advertising rights to running events and forcing bills through with expensive propaganda.

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