The MPs with a finger in the health service pie By Will Stone

24 June 2013 — Morning Star

Members of Parliament are inactivists when it comes to protecting the NHS.

As each year goes by it’s becoming more and more difficult to say that Britain’s health service is entirely publicly funded and free at the point of use.

It’s slowly being crippled and chipped away at by creeping privatisation.

There are 650 MPs representing the nearly 65 million population of Britain – that’s almost one for every 100,000 people.

But when you compare what the majority of Britain wants with how MPs vote in Parliament it’s clear for anyone to see that the democracy of representation is a lovely concept rarely realised in practice.

A great example is the recent Health and Social Care Act, voted through Parliament despite the overwhelming majority of every section of society, including GPs, campaigners, unions and economists saying – with strong evidence to back it up – that it would be a bad idea.

In contrast, with little to no evidence that such a major overhaul would be successful and seemingly arguing for experimentation alone, MPs pushed it through to be rubber-stamped by the Queen.

Sifting through the latest register of members’ financial interests – as of June 10 2013 – it’s clear that for some MPs at least there may be other reasons for voting “aye” than the national interest.

One “aye” voter was Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness Mark Simmonds.

According to his voting record, Simmonds sat out of most of the debates but was present at the Bill’s crucial stages including its third reading before it was sent to the House of Lords, and at the ping-pong vote on March 20 last year.

But his file of financial interests shows that the MP was strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare up until September 2012, months after the Bill became an Act and was given royal assent on March 27.

He was paid a quarterly fee of £12,500 in June 2012 and received a further £8,890 on October 5 the same year.

Circle Healthcare will benefit hugely from an Act that puts in place greater opportunities for private companies to be awarded health service contracts.

The private company has already become infamous for being the first to be awarded a contract to run an NHS hospital – Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire – from February 2012.

What a great success that turned out to be.

A damning National Audit Office report published in November the same year found that the hospital’s deficit was £2.2 million more than Circle had forecast.

Simmonds isn’t the only MP with links to private companies that, while not providers like Circle, in some way make huge profits from health care.

Liberal Democrat MP Robert Smith has shareholdings with pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline and Tory Pauline Latham received a donation amounting to more than £5,000 from British multinational mining company Anglo American plc and US pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson to travel to South Africa in February this year – “to see what both businesses do in terms of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and health” in the country.

Hopefully the Mid Derbyshire MP’s trip helped her find out what the companies don’t do in both respects.

The programme had a particular focus on HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and burns, according to her file of registered financial interests.

It’s interesting that both MPs also voted for health reforms.

Labour MP Ian Lucas and Conservative Mark Menzies also made a similar trip in April this year to Algeria, funded by the Algerian government and the International Hospitals Group.

The IHP describes itself on its website as “the most experienced international health care services company in the world” with expertise in health care consultancy, functional planning, design, construction, commissioning and training staff for hospitals and other health care facilities around the world.

Founded in 1978, the company has completed over 400 projects in 45 countries for private and public-sector clients including national governments, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.

Mr Menzies voted for health reforms. Mr Lucas against.

Unsurprisingly too, a number of Labour MPs have declared donations relating to Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

As a consultant and financial advisory service their scope is far broader than healthcare alone, but it’s worth noting that PwC has aided the healthcare privatisation argument – in particular publishing reports that heavily support private finance initiatives, which have shackled so many hospitals with crippling debts.

Next time your MP seems hell-bent on a ruinous policy, check out the register. They may not simply be an idiot.

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