When Dr. Les Vertusi returned from a provincially funded tour of hospitals in four European countries, he did not expect a radio interview with a British researcher to cast a different slant on his views about the state of health care in the United Kingdom.
In a CBC radio interview on March 14, Dr. Vertusi - who is British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell’s brother-in-law - spoke glowingly about how the British health care system has been “transformed” for the better thanks to private financing initiatives (PFIs), the British version of P3s.
However, an interview later that day with Dr. Allyson Pollock, a health researcher at University College, London, told a different story. After hearing Dr. Vertusi’s remarks, Dr. Pollock said, “I wonder who he’s been talking to and what he’s actually been looking at because…market-driven changes in privatization are proving to be quite catastrophic.”
Dr. Pollock said that Britain’s national health system is being eroded “without public mandate…there’s no democratic mandate for it.” The government argues “that it doesn’t matter who delivers the services that are being provided,” she said. Hospitals and staff in hospitals are being “handed over to the private sector, who then run those services in return for an annual charge.”
This is a much more expensive way to deliver health care, according to Dr. Pollock. The costs of privatization include “administration costs, billing and invoicing, costs that we’ve never had before…and on top of those costs, we have the cost of servicing the PFI debt.”
The tragedy, she explained, is that money that should be going to patient care and services is “simply going out to a variety of different for-profit corporations which include the bankers and builders of P3 companies, and service operators… it also now includes the new health care corporations, including some from the United States, which are making predatory overtures in the United Kingdom.”
Dr. Pollock admitted that waiting lists for hip or eye surgery have declined. “But it has also actually distorted all the clinical priorities, so the attention has completely moved away from people with chronic illness, strokes, terminal care, palliative care…these services are closing right across the country because the government’s efforts have primarily been at targeting the bits of the sector that the private sector will actually want to come in and operate.”
Ultimately, the government’s push toward P3s “will mean that the winners will be the corporations, and the losers will be the old and the sick and the poor,” she said.
- With transcripts from the CBC