IT EMERGED this week that NHS England in August last year took the unprecedented step of threatening legal action against a hospital in order to force it to accept privatisation of one of its services.
Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS trust, along with doctors and cancer patients, had opposed the take-over of cancer screening services by a private company InHealth.
In order to silence this opposition, NHS England bosses took the extraordinary step of calling in the lawyers to threaten to sue the hospital for libel claiming that the concerns about privatisation of a vital service amounted to defamation.
NHS England’s solicitors issued the warning after OUH revealed it was considering mounting a legal challenge to InHealth taking over the contract on the grounds that this ‘put patient safety at risk and severely compromised the provision of cancer care and research in the health system, in both the short and long term’.
The proposal was to move two scanners at the Churchill hospital in Oxford to another location under the control of InHealth.
NHS England solicitors wrote to the trust’s lawyers referring to this statement saying: ‘NHS England does not accept that the result of this procurement puts patient safety at risk or compromises the provision of cancer care and research in the health system.’
They added the threat of legal action against the trust saying: ‘We are bound to put you on notice that any statement in those or similar terms would be defamatory if repeated to a third party.’
The threat was clear – any doctor or medical specialist daring to raise their voice about the dangers of privatisation runs the risk of being hauled up in court on charges of libel and defamation.
The law would be used to enforce privatisation and crush any opposition.
Such was the hue and cry at this despicable threat to the OUH and its staff, that NHS England was last week forced to partially back down and the two scanners will remain at the hospital but still be run by InHealth.
This is not the first time the NHS has been sued. In November 2016, the health privateer Virgin Care sued six Surrey Clinical Commissioning Groups after an £82 million healthcare contract was awarded to in-house NHS providers and not them. Virgin Care won an undisclosed amount as a result of their action.
Privatisation of health services and the involvement of courts in enforcing it are not confined to the UK.
In fact, the EU and its European Court of Justice have pioneered the use of the law and legal definitions to force through privatisation of health across Europe.
This has been enshrined in a ruling by the EU court that: ‘The fact that a health service is provided by a public hospital is not sufficient for the activity to be classified as non-economic.’
By classifying publicly run hospitals as ‘economic activities’ the court opened up the health system across the EU to the discipline of the capitalist market place which demands these services be flung open to private competition regardless of the costs to patients’ health.
What this means was demonstrated in Germany when the German Association of Private Clinics sued the district council of Calw for subsidising a local public hospital on the grounds that it discriminated against other privately run hospitals in the area.
This is the EU that the Labour and TUC leaders claim as the great defender of workers’ rights and services!
This is the EU, a thieves’ den of bankers and privateers, that the Labour and trade union leadership are so desperate to remain tied to.
The only way to put an end to privatisation and austerity is for the working class in Britain to mobilise to break with the EU by taking power – bringing down the Tory government and going forward to a workers government that will end all privatisation, expropriate the banks and large industry and build a socialist planned economy where health is a right not a commercial activity.
This will win the mass support of workers and youth across Europe who are in the same fight against capitalist austerity and open the way for building the United Socialist States of Europe.