openDemocracyUK

Arrests show the cynical reality of the NHS 'listening exercise'

Two activists have been arrested for protesting outside a think-tank lobbying for NHS privatisation. It's clear who really has the government's ear in the so-called 'listening exercise' on the Health and Social Care Bill
Niki Seth-Smith
25 May 2011

Who really has the government's ear in the so-called 'listening exercise' around Andrew Lansley's proposed NHS reforms? Not engaged citizens, it appears, after two protesters were arrested this morning outside a think-tank that is lobbying for NHS privatisation.

The small group of NHS Direct Action and UK Uncut activists, dressed in scrubs, had prepared for a fun, peaceful demonstration - a mere taster in preparation for this Saturday, the networks' first full day of action over the Health and Social Care Bill, to be held up and down the country. 

The think-tank targeted was 2020health, a centre-right pressure group with strong links to the private health insurance industry. As the monitoring organisation Spinwatch has helped expose, 2020health, which claims to be "independent and grassroots", has been a key influence on the Health Minister and his proposed demolition of the NHS. Its chairman, Tom Sackville, is a high-flying beneficiary of the revolving door between the government and the private health sector. Once a health minister under Margaret Thatcher, he is now CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, which represents a hundred private healthcare companies in thirty-one countries.

It was Sackville that the protesters asked to see, after walking through the front door and taking the lift up to the think-tank's offices. After refusing to meet them, was it Sackville who then called in the police? According to NHS Direct Action, the activists left peacefully to continue their protests outside, only to be confronted by more than twenty riot police and a FIT team surveillance officer. Two activists were searched and arrested on suspicion of "aggravated criminal damage" and were taken to West End Central police station.

Apologists for the escalation of political policing in recent months argue that there are other ways, in our advanced democracy, for British citizens to make their voices heard. Yet more than 6000 people responded to the flawed consultation into the Health and Social Care Bill, and only one significantly change has been made - concerning which body will be responsibility for midwifery. It seems that those who have chosen the approved channels for dissent have little chance of touching Sackville and his ilk. And those that wish to meet the backstage masterminds of Lansley's bill, as we saw this morning, are likely to meet instead the strong arm of the state. 

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