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Researching health companies: a web search guide

How to uncover the facts about the companies involved in NHS privatisation - a joint OurNHS/Corporate Watch guide, and the first in a series of bite-sized OurNHS guides to NHS campaigning. 

Image: Flickr/Paurian

The more you know about the companies carving up the NHS, the better you can campaign against them. Chances are your first port of call will be the internet. This introductory guide, from OurNHS openDemocracy and Corporate Watch, shows you how to get the information you need as quickly as possible.

First up, type the company's name into a search engine (Google being the obvious example but there are alternatives). The majority of results you get will usually be from the mainstream media and may not bring up critical information that exists about a company –  to get that you may need to refine your search a bit.

Search for the company name together with 'privatisation', 'privatising', 'sell-off',  or another word you think other people digging into the company will have used, for example:

UnitedHealth + privatisation OR privatising OR “sell-off”

(+ and OR are both commands that search engines recognise).

This should help flush out campaigns or investigations covered in the national or local media. (You can also try similar searches on Twitter).

Or you can include the name of a campaign or particular author, for example:

Circle + “John Lister”

UnitedHealth  + “Keep Our NHS Public”

(if you want search an exact phrase, use quotation marks around it).

Good organisations and campaigns to use in your online searches include CHPI, “NHS Supporters Federation”, NHS4Sale, Unite, Unison, GMB, RCN, NHS4Sale, False Economy.

Then try searching particular websites. You can do this through a search engine too, by using the site: command. For example:

“Virgin Care” site:opendemocracy.net

will find you lots of OurNHS articles about that company.

Other sites you might like to try: corporatewatch.org, spinwatch.org, 38degrees.org.uk, nhsvault.blogspot.com, sourcewatch.org, powerbase.org.

Trade or specialist healthcare media are good for detail. You're probably not the target audience of www.healthinvestor.co.uk but it will keep you up to date with the latest deals and gossip from the healthcare industry. The Health Service Journal - http://www.hsj.co.uk/ - has a huge amount of information about the NHS. You can only look at a few articles before both these sites start asking you for money so use them wisely. 

You can find inspection reports about the quality of care via the Care Quality Commission website, though be prepared to have to dig around. If searching in the site is tricky, try:

CQC criticised [company name]

It might be worth having a look at other regulators too, to see if the company – or its bosses - have been in trouble before. There's a list here

And don't forget the company's website. Have a look in particular at the 'News' section, where they often announce new contract wins, and the 'Investors' section, if there is one. History sections can also be useful, but remember that the company's own website is unlikely to dwell on anything embarrassing or controversial. Check Wikipedia to see if the company previously had different name or is part of a bigger group.

To see what MPs and Lords have said about a company in parliament, search for the company name on www.theyworkforyou.com or http://www.parliament.uk.

To find financial or other links between companies / company directors and politicians, use the Members Registers of Interests and Electoral Commission websites. It may be easier to find connections in the former by searching key terms like:

 “remunerated directorships” OR “remunerable employment” OR “registrable shareholdings” OR “sponsorship or financial” + [company name].

You'll need to use the find function to search the Registers of Interests – press the ‘control’ button and then the f key on your keyboard and type the name of the company into the box that comes up.

If you want to know who is running the company, go to the 'About Us' or 'Investors' sections of the company's website, or use a business website like www.companycheck.co.uk or www.endole.co.uk, which should give you information on directors (and also limited information on major shareholders).

For more on finding out who owns a company and how much they are making, see this Corporate Watch guide.

To find out more about the directors and shareholders, you could then follow the web search steps above, replacing the company name with the director or shareholder name.

This joint guide is intended (funding permitting) as the first in a series of bite-size guides to NHS campaigning from OurNHS openDemocracy.

To find out more about digging into a company, have a look at Corporate Watch's Investigating Companies: A Do-It-Yourself Handbook.

If you have ideas for future guides that you’d find helpful in your campaigning, please contact us:

Caroline.Molloy[at]openDemocracy.net and/or Contact[at]corporatewatch.org

And if you can, please consider making a donation to support our work – we rely on reader donations to keep producing stories and resources to help protect our NHS.

About the authors

Caroline Molloy is Editor of OurNHS and a freelance writer. In 2011/12 she was part of a successful campaign which reversed one of the largest planned NHS privatisations in the country, involving 9 Gloucestershire hospitals. Since then she has been campaigning alongside local and national groups to defend the NHS. 

Richard Whittell works for Corporate Watch. He is the co-author of Resisting Reform: Water Profits and Democracy (Sage, 2010) and Dodgy Development: Films and Interviews Challenging British Aid in India (Corporate Watch, 2011)


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