NHS hospital management by overseas firms 'discussed'

Hospital room MPs are due to debate the health bill this week

Senior officials have discussed handing the management of up to 20 English NHS hospitals to overseas companies, emails released by the government indicate.

Talks included plans for 10 to 20 hospitals but starting with one hospital at a time, the Observer says.

It comes as Lib Dem peer Shirley Williams said she had "huge concerns" over the NHS reform plans.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley says claims the government aims to privatise the NHS are "ludicrous scaremongering".

The emails were released after a Freedom of Information request by non-profit investigations organisation Spinwatch, which monitors public relations and spin.

They are reported to show that consulting firm McKinsey was acting as a broker between the Department of Health and "international players" for contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

One email talks about "interest in new solution for 10-20 hospitals but starting from a mindset of one at a time with various political constraints".

The Observer reported that the "international hospital provider groups" would want certain conditions regarding taking over the hospitals, such as "a free hand on staff management", but that the NHS would be allowed to "keep real estate and pensions".


In any market, there is always a rump of organisations that struggle. The NHS is no different - and for the past 20 years successive governments have been wondering what to do with them.

The 10-20 figure represents less than a tenth of trusts. They tend to be the most badly run, attract the least patients and have the largest debts. If they were private sector groups they would simply shrivel and die.

But the natural reaction of the NHS is to look at new ways of running them. This can involve parachuting in NHS managers from top-performing hospitals, mergers with larger organisations or - as these emails show - bringing in the private sector.

This model has already been proposed for one hospital - Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire. Under the plans, private managers will run the trust but the services will remain NHS.

However, there is a growing consensus that there needs to be a more brutal approach - the closure of some units.

The Department of Health said it was not unusual to hold meetings with external organisations and that NHS staff and assets would always remain wholly owned by the NHS.

The government is in the process of trying to overhaul the way the NHS in England works, giving GPs and other clinicians much more responsibility for spending and encouraging greater competition with the private sector.

The controversial plans have been labelled some of the most radical in the history of the health service.

Legal duty

Mr Lansley said: "The reality is that we're giving more power and choice to patients over how they get treated, keeping waiting times low and cutting bureaucracy so more cash gets to the front line.

"We will not allow these lies to block the progress we want to achieve for patients."

The government's plans were put on hold in the spring after criticisms from MPs and health unions. A series of concessions to the Health and Social Care Bill were proposed and MPs will debate the legislation this week.

Meanwhile, Lady Williams said the battle over bill was "far from over" and the reforms "need not mean upheaval and disintegration".

'Flawed US system'

Writing in the Observer, she said: "The central issue is whether, if the bill is passed without further amendment, there will be any legal duty... to provide and secure a comprehensive health service for the people of England, free at the point of need - the heart of what the NHS is all about."

She added: "I am not against a private element in the NHS, which may bring innovation and good practice, provided it is within the framework of a public service - complementary but not wrecking.

"But why have they been bewitched by a flawed US system?"

Her comments follow renewed demonstrations against the reforms this weekend by health workers across England.

Candlelit vigils and protests were held in areas including London, Reading, Cambridge, Norwich, Sunderland, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds and Portsmouth.

Christina McAnea, head of health at the union Unison, said: "People are rightly proud of an NHS that puts patient need before private profit, and voting through this Bill will be the end of the NHS as we know it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    As soon as you involve a Private Company to run ANY part of the NHS you are spending taxpayers money on that companies profits. Money going to profits is money NOT going on patient care.
    But what should really worry you is the Governments plans to abolish the Secretary of State’s legal duty to provide a health service. No legal requirement - no health service.
    Be afraid, be very afraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    takes everyones mind off the economy,not too sure how thats doing?,no good asking Dave he wouldnt know either,hes only a Primeminister,don"t mean a lot,that,these days,tough love to all,ying-tong-ying-tong,Heil Cameron!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Many of the posters here have swallowed the Tory lie that the NHS is inefficient/wastes public money/needs complete change. The fact is that the NHS is efficient and popular. It needs to change because the needs of the population are changing. But Cameron wants change so that his friends can make profits from taxpayers' money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    After working 35 years in the NHS seeing OUR health service pulled one way when one political party is in power only to see the NHS being pushed in the other direction when the other party wins power has cost the taxpayers of this land billions of pounds. I can say with hand-on heart the Conservatives have done more harm than good and should NEVER be trusted with our health service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    I would like to apologise to the people of this great nation for voting Liberal Democrat.
    I was hood winked by their reasonable manifesto and will never ever vote for either the libs or their masters the tories (altough I never did vote tory) ever again.

    Yours Humbly and contritely


  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Just look at how wonderful all those bankrupt PRIVATE care homes are!

    Staff paid peanuts, slack regulation, and we will all lie down and take it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    I worry about the idea that foreign ownership of NHS trusts is in any way politically acceptable - where is the accountability? What happens when trusts (as some will) go bankrupt - public bailouts where the the less well off pay for the company liabilities? Of course some trusts have less 'customers' than others - they are in less populated parts of the country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    242. roger
    before long it will have to cut spending by at least half or close altogether, there is no way we can keep our heath service much longer as it is today. i know its not popular to say this but when it closes within the next 5 years remember you heard it here first

    Sorry that you are severely brainwashed by Tory rhetoric. The NHS may be gone in 5 years, due to evil Tory master plan only

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    The NHS is one great humongous festering waste of public money. I would estimate to having paid in around £100,000 in taxes to the NHS and on the one occasion I really I needed treatment couldn't even get to register with a GP after 3 attempts. The NHS is set up to benefit NHS workers - the rest of us can get stuffed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Since 1975 I have been required to undergo surgery 36 times until 2003 and so therefore have experience as a patient likely to be more in-depth than most of the Politicians, Doctors, Nurses etc and the NHS already uses private hospitals to cope with demand and decrease waiting costs... the issue is that the NHS is being asked to provide TOO MUCH with procedures that frankly are not life changing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Typical Tory policy...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    331. elway999, Sorry I was replying to this post, not to Verity's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    331. elway999
    There are TOO many managers compared to clinical staff. >>
    Bang on.
    My wife is a senior sister with an immense range of clinical specialties. She is also the manager of her unit. The amount of clinical hours she is able to allocate herself is getting smaller daily. She is a superb modern manager in the old fashioned Matron mould.

    If she could ever get away for her computer..

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    5 Minutes ago
    deadpansean - all posts. Revolution - yes, but a well behaved one. No trashing the place.

    Absolutely peaceful & within the law right up to the moment they get scared & start using force (which they will,the kettling of children springs to mind) & remember they view 'peaceful' as something they can ignore allowing them to carry on doing what THEY want...

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Verity: At last a person who speaks the truth. I also used to work in the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Shame on our government! It is obvious you can create more jobs for local British. Why don’t you?

    Because Lynn, there is no money to PAY for these jobs. Taxes etc, aren't enough to pay for the public services we want.

    However, I agree that farming hospital managment out to the French or Germans is enough for me to never vote Tory again.

    No longer sure which party I hate the most!

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    If the Beeb needs a headline news item tomorrow it should be that in 330 posts to a HYS subject there has been, as far as I can see, 100% agreement on condemnation of the Tory's NHS policy.

    Apart from being a major event in itself, someone needs to tell Cameron just how dangerously out of touch he is on this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    All the Tories have ever wanted to do is destroy the NHS to make way for a 100% private system for those who can afford it, out of which they and their friends will make a huge amount of money.
    This is a lazy, hackneyed and completely false argument. No party wants to destroy the NHS. What they all try and do is find a way to pay for it.

    This latest idea however, is daft

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    This government seems to be making policy based on yes minister sketches?

    To outline various options - some of which are so ridiculous that the one they actually favour (and want to push through) seems acceptable by comparison.

    This must surely be the reason for such an unbelievable proposition ?

    They are starving the nhs of funds - ensuring that it doesnt work & must need reform- student nurse

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Blind stupidity.


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