Government Climbdown Over Plans for Enforced NHS Privatisation


Please note: Although I took an optimistic tone in this article, the truth is that the revised regulations are still toxic for the NHS, and intended to usher in the wholesale privatisation of NHS services through legal means. Please see this article — and photos from a lobby of Parliament on March 26 — for further details, and please get involved to save the NHS.

Life under the Tories is so miserable, and the assaults on the very fabric of British life so unrelenting, that it’s rare for a ray of sunlight to shine through.

Yesterday, however, NHS campaigners secured victory in a campaign to prevent the stealthy passage of legislation designed to enforce competition on almost all aspects of NHS business, largely as a result of pressure exerted by members of the public. Just two weeks ago, campaigners began setting off alarm bells across the internet — by email, on websites, and via social media — about regulations relating to section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act, which the government hoped would pass stealthily, without debate, and which, in the words of the campaigning group 38 Degrees, “would force local doctors to open up almost all NHS services to private companies,” breaking cast-iron promises made by the government when the bill was passed, without which it would have been derailed.

The quote from 38 Degrees comes from the petition that was launched last Monday, February 25, which currently has nearly 250,000 signatures, and which secured nearly 120,000 signatures in the first 24 hours.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, however, “Ministers have been forced into a humiliating climbdown on plans for more private sector involvement in the NHS just four weeks before they were due to come into effect.”

In an announcement that Labour described as a “humiliating U-turn” for the government, which, as the Guardian put it, “has for nearly three years insisted that the Health and Social Care Act passed last year does not create privatisation by stealth,” Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb stated that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten.

The Guardian described the decision as following on from “intense lobbying over two weeks since the controversial regulations were introduced under section 75 of the act,” noting that critics “had accused Jeremy Hunt’s health department of attempting to introduce ‘privatisation by the back door’ despite previous assurances — mainly to rebellious Lib Dem coalition partners — that the act would not prefigure a wholesale privatisation of the NHS.”

In the House of Commons, Norman Lamb responded to questioning from Labour about the regulations regarding enforced competition by stating that the government “did not accept critics’ claims of wholesale privatisation,” but “offered to rewrite key parts of the regulations” to, in his words, “remove any doubt.”

Those sections, it is clear, include key clauses dealing with the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the  groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS’s budget from April, and who, as the Guardian put it, “will decide when and how competition should be sought.” There will be “clearer rules about the exceptional circumstances when only one organisation can tender for a service without competition for the contract; assurances that CCGs do not have to tender all services, and cannot be forced to by the regulator, Monitor; and an insistence that competition must not be at the expense of ‘integration and co-operation.'”

Lamb also noted that, “In all cases, the regulations would be based on standards adopted by the previous Labour government, when the now shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, was in charge of the health department,” as the Guardian described it. He added, “The regulations must be fully in line with the assurances given to this House during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act.”

In response, Andy Burnham accurately pointed out that the government’s policy on competition in the NHS was “in utter chaos” just four weeks before the CCGs are supposed to begin their work, adding, “It beggars belief that almost three years after the white paper and the upheaval inflicted on the NHS there’s still no clarity on policy today.” He also stated that the government had been found out while “trying to sneak through privatisations through the backdoor.”

I would encourage everyone to remain vigilant, as this is a government that does not like to be derailed from its vile obsession with destroying the very fabric of life in Britain, but it does appear that we have made a difference.

Let us not forget, however, that the NHS is not safe from its own management, determined to save money by axing services, and — again — from the government, when it comes to cuts, the closures of A&E Departments and other key frontline services, and even the closure of entire hospitals. In Lewisham, where I live, the battle to save Lewisham Hospital from being sacrificed to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust continues (see my article, “Save Lewisham Hospital: Legal Challenge Goes Ahead, Plus New Actions Confirmed“), and across London other battles are still being fought, as I reported most recently in my article, ‘Defend London’s NHS: MPs, Doctors and Activists Describe An Unprecedented Threat to the NHS.”

Please get involved if you can — after you’ve taken a moment to thank yourselves for the success described above, if you were one of the nearly 250,000 people who signed the 38 Degrees petition or were otherwise involved in — for once — stopping the government from inflicting huge damage on the institutions, like the NHS, that define civil society.

Note: The photo above is from my set of photos of a rally to save Lewisham Hospital on February 15. Also see here, here, here and here.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

31 Responses

  1. Thomas says...

    That was a close thing, but like an undead that knits itself back together when you think you’ve chopped it into small pieces, it’ll try again. Only a general election defeat can slay it.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Thomas. Unfortunately, not even a general election guarantees anything. I trust Andy Burnham more than the Tories, but the Labour party is also bewitched by austerity, and unable to formulate a new way of looking at politics. The answer is simple: work out what’s truly important, and find out how to pay for it – that’s the NHS, education and housing, primarily. And we also need jobs. For everyone.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Charmaine Dolan wrote:

    Fab news Andy!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lorna Watson wrote:

    I got this reply from my Tory MP Amber Rudd today: “I never sign any Early Day Motions, as they carry no weight, they do not result in policy outcomes, and they are very costly. However, l am sorry if anyone has misled you into believing that this Government is not fully supportive of a free NHS. | am proud of the Commitment that the Conservative Party has made to increase spending on the NHS, being the only party to make this pledge for our national healthcare system.”

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I read the Guardian article, I think late last night, and noticed two possible loopholes. 1. It said that ‘when and how’ commissioning will be done is open. Now, I would add ‘if.’ Only something like that would exclude privatisation. 2. I read that the new text will be ‘based on’ standards set by Labour. That phrase is open-ended. You can start with whatever Labour standards you wish and wind up anywhere you want, step by sly step (I’ve seen this happen).

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Charmaine, Lorna and George. Honestly, Lorna, I wonder how MPs can spout such lies with a straight face.
    And George, I take your concerns very seriously. The details will need careful scrutiny, but it’s clear that the Lib Dems are vulnerable on the NHS – if on almost nothing else – so that remains an area where leverage can be applied. What also needs careful scrutiny is how the CCGs are going to behave when presented with 80 percent of the NHS budget. Some, we already know, are interested in doing their job properly (i.e. for the people), but we also know that the Tories wouldn’t have introduced these changes unless they believed that lots of GPs are either corrupt (so that they’ll commission companies they own or invest in, a situation that will need looking at for glaring conflicts of interest) or incapable of dealing with the budgets themselves, in which case they’ll have to call on … yes, you guessed it, outside consultants!
    Like everything this scummy government touches, its changes are malignantly motivated and ill thought out. Again and again it’s clear that, when making decisions, these leeches and arrogant pompous clowns made sure that anyone with a fully functioning brain wasn’t in the room when they came up with what are laughingly described as their policies. I don’t see butchers generally describing their knives as policies …

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I had to laugh, of course, right before I got to your exclamation point.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. We need to know the difference between right and wrong if we’re to have any chance of defeating these politicians and their advisers, but we’ll need to keep a sense of humour if we’re not be destroyed while trying to do it!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Wow! The petition is back with a vengeance. It’s currently on 311,325 signatures – that’s nearly 70,000 since yesterday evening!

  10. damo says...

    great to see those sniveling torie fucks get a slap ..but dont rest on your laurels were dealing with a barrel of snakes here those fuckers will find other ways and means they will punnish us now in some way..we need to be gearing up for april….

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Damo. I was hesitant even to write this because it feels like a fleeting victory whose parameters haven’t even been mapped out, but I did think it was important. I’m planning to write a few more articles about the imminent benefit cuts, to really get my head around the scale of it all. The full effects of all the cuts from April onwards will be the decider – are people with us, or are they sadistic scum like the Tories?

  12. damo says...

    its good that you did report it andy as it gives people some hope ..are people with us i just dont know the tories and papers like the daily mail have realy whipped up a frenzy of hate in the sad little country any one thats on any kind of benifit is scum now even the wounded soldiers returning from that pointless unjust and unwinnable war [over oil and other resources of course] as for the poor sods that are gonna be directly affected they will have no chouise but to be on our side we need it to kick of like the poll tax roits i dont condone voilence but against all tories i do,lol

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I see they’re up against the ropes a bit right now, Damo – and it may be a sign of greater disillusionment from the people at large. I do hope so. I was very pleased that Robert Chote, the head of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which was created by Cameron and Osborne, wrote to Cameron to complain about him lying. As the Guardian put it, “Cameron said the OBR supported No 10’s view that the lack of growth since the coalition took office was due to the eurozone crisis, a rise in oil prices and debts from the financial crisis.” In what was described as “an unprecedented move,” Chote wrote to Cameron to tell him that, actually, it was the government’s austerity programme that “had knocked 1.4% off GDP in the past two years.”
    Then there are the rumblings of a leadership challenge, with the Guardian writing about backbenchers expressing “increasing confidence that David Cameron will face a challenge to his leadership later this summer,” which doesn’t sound good for the government’s credibility.
    Of course, with the Labour leadership still so useless, and our fellow citizens possibly seeking out ever more right-wing fanatics to support in alarming numbers, this may not be such great news, but it cheered me up today.

  14. damo says...

    la..bore were and are an absolute discrace they are as much to blame as the tories and as for ed miiliband ..pathetic its career polititions andy they havent a clue and this lot both left and right all went to private school ..ther still suckling on the nannys tit pitifull and weak none and i mean none have the courage of there convictions balls and thats why people are drifting into the clutches of the far right..gawd help us its time to emigrate..[if only i could]

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Damo, you’re certainly correct that people drift to the right in times of hardship without strong guidance from the left, and that very little guidance is forthcoming from anyone in the “establishment,” including most Labour politicians. Since Blair and Brown’s aspirational revolution, this means that almost everyone with a vested interest in the status quo isn’t prepared to propose the return to a more fair and just society – in other words, almost everyone who, via their investments and/or property ownership, are profiting, and supporting the lifestyles to which they think they are entitled at the expense of others.

  16. damo says...

    its a sad inditement of how things are in the truly wretched little country now polititions and there money grabbing vested intrests i was reading with horror the other day about 1 hyde park corner were flats go for around 100 million each crazy isnt it just the greed its just repulsive you look at fat faced osbourne ,dinning out on the best food,drinking the best wine,sitting nice and warm on his fat ares while the number of food banks grows by the mounth not forgetting the armys of homeless i mean its fucking freezing tonight imagine being out there on the street..something that camoron and his like couldnt even conseive..cunts,lol,lol

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes I read that 1 Hyde Park Corner story too, Damo, courtesy of the excellent Nicholas Shaxson – or rather, I read the brief intro to it on the Vanity Fair website (the article’s in the April issue). Good grief! I may have to buy the magazine if the full story isn’t made available online. This is the intro:
    Nicholas Shaxson is the author of “Treasure Islands”:
    Can’t imagine being on the streets tonight, Damo. It’s so cold I could only bear being out on my bike for about an hour today, and I’ve got used to being out in all types of weather.

  18. damo says...

    i just read the vanity fair article ..soooo repulsive,lol i mean who could give a shit about thease people ,lol it just shows how enslaved people are to capitalisum that thease wealthy turds are feted as demi gods by people ,lol,lol its just like super repelant,lol,lol

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I need to get it as well, Damo. I think it will be worth reading. Nicholas Shaxson’s a bit of a hero, actually, in his mission to expose these global elites. I need to get my head around quite how much the government have turned into pimps for anyone with money. I saw it clearly on a trip to Mayfair a few months back. So long as you’ve got money, the public school boys will pimp for you. Now I need some more facts!

  20. damo says...

    lol they will be on there backs in the dead fly position,lol,lol

  21. damo says...

    you know wot they say about public school boys ..dear,lol

  22. damo says...

    the trouble is andy this is the society that we live in now were wealth is placed above all things turn on the tv and you will see thease endless shows about wealthy pin heads ,realy stupid grotesqe people behaveing like moraless monsters showing all the worst charicteristics of spoiled monsters..they are the new gods

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    To some people these monsters are heroes, Damo, that’s for sure, and it’s certainly the prevalent cultural driver of our mean little society right now. However, it’s not the only story. There are lots of us who think differently, but we’re heard from far too infrequently.

  24. damo says...

    your dead right andy this is a mean little society or it has become one and i fear its gonna get a lot worse the way people behave now would not have been tolerated even 20 years ago ..but were are people andy ..i mean for fucks sake why are we so fucking passive in this country ..take to the streets for fucks from next mounth this evil government and greedy foul rental agencys /landlords are going to be makeing thousands homeless …nobody seems to be doing anything were all just sat there condemed men waiting for the noose..if you would have said to my grandfathers generation how things would have become in this country they wouldnt have believed you now is the time to fight back i mean it realy is …but were are people next mounth it will be to late…andy a thousand little acts of protest ..that just wont cut it now ..we all need to do a thousand ..BIG..acts of disobeadiance and give the foul tories/wealthy cronies/bankers a fucking good kicking and make sure to kick them when there down becouse thats wot there doing…but were are people..dxxx

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    You answered your question, Damo. Our society is one of “condemned men waiting for the noose.” People aren’t going to wake up until they’re swinging, and then they’re going to have to hope that someone cuts them down quickly. I may be stretching the analogy …
    I don’t know, mate. Why don’t people talk to each other, or why don’t they realise that they may be missing the point? Everyone’s feeing the squeeze, but do they really think it’s an adequate explanation to blame all that on “immigrants” or on “scroungers”? Don’t they know who’s really ripping them off, people like the wretched Scrooge Iain Duncan Smith?

  26. Chris says...

    This ain’t over yet: The government’s revised section-75-regulations apparently have introduced legal uncertainty which will encourage clinical commissioning groups to engage in competitive tendering of health care services. See

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Chris. I quote the conclusion:

    “The intent and the threat of the original legislation has not changed one jot – and all those who love the NHS need to make their voice heard to make sure that the amended version is blocked even more emphatically than the first one.”

    When 350,000 signatures (on the 38 Degrees petition) count for nothing, what do we do?

  28. Chris says...

    The government is free to ignore ‘clictivism’, no matter the number of signatures. People should write to their MPs again, attend whatever rallies there will be on Budget day….
    Where is the anger? Where is the outrage? What would it take to get Brits off their butts and out on the streets?

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    I dont know what it will take, Chris. My fear is that people will only realise what is happening when it’s too late. It may be that the welfare changes from April 1 will precipitate wider engagement and dissent than we have seen so far, but there appears to be no guarantee that it will. I try not to despair, but it’s not looking good. First we need a widespread awakening, and then we’ll need a new political movement, to create a new people-centred state rather than the atomised collection of greedy and/or ignorant individuals that currently passes for society.

  30. damo says...

    your right chris …WERE IS PEOPLES ANGER..were andy as for ian duncan smith he should be cooked and the camoron ,osbourne et al should be made to eat him like that film the cook ,the theif ect all washed down with a nice bottle of cianti ,ffffffffff ,lol,lol

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Damo. Nice image – Cameron and Osborne tucking into the carcass of Iain Duncan Smith!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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