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Healthcare coup: the Lords didn't save us the first time

Today the Lords will likely vote through the Coalition's disastrous privatisation regulations, section 75, opening nearly all NHS services to competition - a health market. Why, considering their extensive conflicts of interest, are many of these Lords not barred from voting?

In early 2012 the Lords voted in favour of the Health and Social Care bill, the final step in turning it into an Act. As the Lords sat in the house to debate and vote on the bill, research conducted by Social Investigations revealed the Lords were riddled with private healthcare interests across all parties. Despite these recent or present financial links to private companies involved in healthcare, they were allowed to debate and vote.  

Now, for the second time of asking the Lords are about to pass or reject a key piece of legislation that will affect the NHS to such an extent its very existence is in the balance. Will they or will they not choose to vote for or against section 75 Regulations of the Health and Social Care Act. If it is the former, then if passed will sound the death knell to the NHS.

Section 75 or the NHS (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No. 2) Regulations 2013 to give it it’s full title, will potentially force the new Clinical Commissioning Groups to tender out all hospital and community carework for GP patients through competitive markets run according to EU competition law. It would open up all areas of NHS provision that interest the private sector to competition. The NHS as we know it will end, providers will be pitted against one another, with traditional local hospitals against multinational corporations. The legal teams of both sides will be among the winners and deciders of what happens to our services. But it is for global services firms such as DLA Piper, where Nick Clegg’s wife was formerly a partner in charge of competition law work, that the prizes are in store.

One global legal partnership heavily involved in European competition law is DLA Piper, who provide lobbying, public affairs and trade policy services as well as advice on how to get access to public service delivery contracts. One partner of the firm who is part of the Liberal Democrat party preparing to make their choice on the vote on the regulation is Lord Tim Clement-Jones.
The Liberal Democratic Health team is led by Baroness Judith Jolly and the third member is Baroness Shirley Williams, neither possesses the legal expertise needed to understand the implications of the regulations by reading them themselves. However, lawyer Lord Clement-Jones who makes up the other member, will be an influential figure in the decision the Liberal Democrats make on the regulations. 

This is of deep concern if you are keen to maintain a cohesive and comprehensive NHS. The Liberal Democratic Peer is a patron of the health think tank 2020Health, who have four peers as patrons, all with financial interests in private healthcare. 2020health Chief Executive Julia Manning has openly called for an increase in private healthcare, and when challenged by Social Investigations on whether their membership contains health insurance companies, they refused to answer. However, former 2020Health Chairman, Tom Sackville – a former Conservative minister – is the current CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, which represents one hundred private health insurance companies in 31 countries.

Lord Clement-Jones involvement, is the tip of a parliamentary private healthcare iceberg. The Members financial interests represent every stage of the healthcare value chain from private equity firms that fund private healthcare companies, to holding shares in those same companies. They are Chairman of companies who run NHS estate, who are involved in PFI deals, partners in legal firms that seal those deals, advisors to private hospitals, they represent companies in pharmaceutical media, medical equipment, care homes, lobbying, and health insurance. You name it, the corporations have it covered and the list of vested interests in both the House of Commons and the Lords is so great, is effectively a healthcare coup d’état of our parliamentary institutions.

We are in the hands of a group of 145 Lords and Baronesses who have recent or present financial interests private healthcare. Are there enough Peers with a conscience to prevent this regulation being passed? In an ideal world they wouldn’t have the vote at all, for their vote is akin to handing a key to a burglar who knows what lies within. In the meantime Baroness Jolly and Shirley Williams may well ask if Lord Clement-Jones is truly on the side of the NHS or whether he is part of the gang who will all be taking their slice from the NHS pie.

This article was cross-posted with thanks from Social Investigations

About the author

Andrew Robertson is the founder of the blog Social Investigations and has been a freelance investigative journalist for 20 years, writing in the Independent, Red Pepper and for Indymedia. Follow him on Twitter @socialindepth. 


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