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It is our NHS and we must have a voice in its future

18 February, 2021

‘The NHS is universally cherished. But the way it is managed does not respect local democracy’

HUNDREDS of people marched down Camden High Street in protest at creeping privatisation of the health service in early 2009.

The takeover of three GP surgeries by UnitedHealth had struck a nerve with the public outraged at the concept that any company – particularly an American corporate giant – could make profit out of the NHS.

There were several packed public meetings, led by, among others, the late Holborn and St Pancras Labour MP Frank Dobson.

The former health secretary’s rabble-rousing qualities came to the fore in his twilight years, particularly on the matter of NHS privatisation and HS2.

The Camden branch of Keep Our NHS Public, led by Candy Udwin, was a campaigning force to be reckoned with.

The council dutifully held a three-day public inquiry into the takeover and the normally sparsely attended and dreadfully dour board meetings of the former Primary Care Trust (PCT) became full and lively affairs.

UnitedHealth had been brought to the public’s attention by the acclaimed Michael Moore documentary Sicko.

Disgraced executives from one of its subsidiaries, which had been fined huge sums for health insurance fraud, were dispatched across the Atlantic to help run its new UK experiment.

UnitedHealth’s global President was at the time Simon Stephens, now Sir Simon who left the company in 2014, after a decade at the helm, to become chief executive of NHS England.

Further back, Sir Simon was an old college pal of Boris Johnson who helped him get elected President of the Oxford Union. Under Tony Blair, Stephens was appointed as a health adviser for many years, including when Mr Dobson was health secretary.

At one public meeting about UnitedHealth at the Whittington, questions were asked of Mr Stephens about the company’s intentions for the three Camden surgeries. The obvious answer was that the company was seeking to gain a first foothold in the NHS.

One small step for UnitedHealth became a giant leap for the private sector. Since the UnitedHealth experiment in Camden, more than £20billion in NHS contracts are in the control of profit-making firms.

But the latest foray from the Centene Corp is unlikely to stoke the anger of years gone by, (The great GP surgery takeover: US giant seizes five practices in Camden, February 18).

As with HS2, fatigue has set in. More than a decade of a full scale privatisation agenda has stifled debate. Protests dwindled as the public’s outrage dissipated.

Private provision in the NHS has become so widespread that whatever comes from the recently leaked White Paper, it will be almost nigh on impossible to turn the juggernaut around.

Peter Roderick is one of the few people left trying to keep tabs on the intentionally furtive and complex world of NHS decision-making.

The NHS is universally cherished, perhaps more so at this moment than ever before. But the way it is managed does not respect local democracy.

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