Health privateer takes NHS to court over right to profit from health – time to expropriate them

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PRIVATEER Circle Health is once again taking legal action to overturn the decision to cancel its contract to run the Nottingham NHS Treatment Centre.

Rushcliffe NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) – the NHS body that awards the contracts on behalf of Nottinghamshire CCGs, finally pulled the rug from under Circle and awarded the £320 million contract to Nottingham University Hospital NHS trust (NUH) after a lengthy and bitter legal fight by Circle to cling onto its remaining foothold in the NHS.

Circle challenged the contract being awarded to NUH, with one of the main grounds being that NUH costs for running the centre would be higher because the staff employed by the NHS qualify for ‘improved NHS terms’.

In the papers submitted to the courts, Circle claimed: ‘The NUH savings, on which the financial scores were calculated, are not achievable without a cross-subsidy being provided from NHS loans or funding.’

Circle went on to claim that any money from central NHS funds to support the Treatment Centre would ‘distort competition’.

So the basis for Circle Health’s legal challenge boils down to the NHS staff getting paid more and having better terms of employment than the workers Circle employs.

Also, using NHS funds to support the Treatment Centre ‘distorts competition’ – in other words, makes it impossible for Circle to make profits out of the NHS by charging what it likes.

Circle objects to NHS funds being spent for the treatment of NHS patients, and is happy to force the NHS to waste millions of pounds defending itself in the courts from the claims of a privateer desperate to make money out of the NHS.

Circle, which has run the centre since it opened in 2008 as part of that drive by the last Labour government to open up the NHS to privatisation, was founded in 2004 as a ‘new model’ of private healthcare with nearly 50% of the company owned by employees.

This new model swiftly disappeared, and it is now owned by the US hedge fund Toscafund who saw it as a golden opportunity to make a fortune out of the NHS budget.

Circle achieved notoriety as the first for-profit company to be handed over the running of an NHS hospital when it took over the management of Hinchingbrooke hospital in 2012 only to do a runner two years later when it couldn’t make the profits it demanded, and dumped the Cambridgeshire hospital back onto the NHS to pick up the pieces.

Circle had no compunction about ditching a hospital contract when it couldn’t make a profit but it is fighting tooth and nail through the courts to hold onto Nottingham Treatment Centre.

The reason for this determination is to be found in the company’s 2016 financial report which outlined a new strategy for gouging a profit from the NHS by building rehabilitation centres close to large NHS hospitals and then charging these hospitals for looking after patients who no longer need acute care but who are not fit enough to return home – a strategy described as a ‘game changer’.

In other words, Circle is banking on the crisis in NHS health and welfare spending – cut to ribbons under Tory austerity – to provide the opportunity for stepping in and raking in vast profits.

The loss of the Nottingham contract on the grounds that bringing the service back into the NHS would, as the CCG said, ‘significantly benefit patients’, is a blow to their strategy and Circle are determined to fight it through the courts all the way.

What is clear is that the entire charade of ‘competitive tendering’ between NHS groups and the privateers must be ended and the privateers and hedge fund vultures kicked out of the NHS and every other public service.

This means workers demanding the TUC takes action by organising a general strike to kick out the Tories, and going forward to a workers’ government that will expropriate the banks and speculators, along with the giant pharmaceutical companies that leech off the NHS, as part of a planned socialist economy.

This is the only way to defend the NHS.