The Plot Against the NHS

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Colin Leys and Stuart Player

This is an excellent book and a must read for health activists. Colin Leys is a professor at Goldsmiths College and Stewart Player is a public policy analyst with extensive experience in studying the NHS.

The authors have described what has been done to the NHS as a plot because it has been covert: "Neither parliament nor the public have ever been told honestly what is intended." They detail how privatisation has been introduced in bite-sized chunks to keep it below the public's radar screen.

As far back as 2000 Tim Evans, lead negotiator for the Independent Health Care Association, said he looked forward to a time when the NHS would simply be a kitemark attached to the institutions and activities of a system of purely private providers. The book charts the course of NHS reforms through the Blair years right up to Andrew Lansley's bill, and shows how perilously close we have come to realising Evans's ambition.

Leading personnel in private corporations, civil servants in the Department of Health and a succession of government ministers have been complicit in this. Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt, both former Labour health secretaries, advise private equity companies with considerable stakes in the UK private healthcare market. Hewitt advises Cinven, who bought BUPA's entire hospital portfolio in 2007, and Milburn advises a firm called Bridgepoint who have bought a dominant share in Care UK, a private provider of care homes for the elderly.

The story is almost Machiavellian in nature. It recounts how the various players weave in and out of the plot, connecting with each other in numerous ways. It is so intricate it is hard to keep up with, but Leys and Player deserve credit for unravelling it all and serving it up to the rest of us in a very readable manner.

Public satisfaction with the NHS has never been higher. There is also considerable evidence to show that it is one of the most cost efficient health services in the world. There is always room for improvement in any service, but the NHS will not be improved through privatisation when healthcare will be planned to maximise profit rather than provide the care people need.

Lansley's health bill must be defeated. Pressure from health workers, their unions and the public can do this. The book is an invaluable weapon in our armoury.

Aneurin Bevan said that there would only be an NHS while there are those with the faith to fight for it. If you aren't angry already, this book will make you furious and up for that fight. Read it!

The Plot Against the NHS is published by Merlin Press £12.95