Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
At a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service last year, Alan Johnson revealed his inspiration for introducing the polyclinic. ‘Nye Bevan did not want lots of isolated GPs,’ said the health secretary. ‘With the introduction of polyclinics I am trying to create Nye’s dream.’
The super-sized surgeries, where GPs work alongside a range of other health care professionals in centralised health centres, are set to replace thousands of ‘single handed’ practices across the country. But Nye’s dream has become rather warped along the way. What Labour is now proposing is fast becoming a recurring nightmare for those who prize the NHS – and it’s not just the Bevanites who are losing sleep.
In stark contrast to the public health centres Bevan sought to establish, the government is bending over backwards to ensure that these health centres are run by a strange clique of private companies.
Last April (2008), UnitedHealth was awarded contracts to run three surgeries in Camden, north London. The American health giant – recently indicted with defrauding American patients out of $1.3 billion of health insurance claims – was easily able to under-cut bids from local doctors by 25 per cent.
Within weeks, two popular locums – including one who had been at the Camden Road surgery for 18 years – were sacked, a popular baby clinic was closed and patient assessment times were cut by five minutes. In May, two directors from the IT firm Ingenix, a subsidiary of the Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group that was responsible for wrongly calculating US patient insurance claims, were dispatched over the Atlantic to run operations here.
In a parliamentary debate following the takeover, former health secretary Frank Dobson asked: ‘UnitedHealth have been indicted for swindling taxpayers and patients – would you employ a company that had a record like that?’ But UnitedHealth’s raid on the NHS is not altogether surprising: the former Downing Street advisor Simon Stevens is chairman of its UK board.
When Camden PCT (primary care trust) announced in June it was planning to bundle Bloomsbury practices into a polyclinic in the University College London Hospital, patients feared UnitedHealth would again be first choice for the privatised project. It turned out to be Virgin Healthcare, but Richard Branson’s empire pulled out of the project because the scheme would not be profitable enough.
The multinational software firm Atos Origin, another of the Department of Health’s ‘preferred suppliers’ of polyclinics in London, recently announced it was pulling out of its contract to run local doctors’ services in Tower Hamlets. After just seven months, patients were told that a reduced service would be operating until the split.
It is no wonder that doctors and patients in Haringey fear the worst when the contracts to run five polyclinics are put out for tender in April.
Patient campaigner Janet Shapiro speaks for thousands when she says: ‘There is no democracy in the NHS. There’s no way of forcing the PCT to listen to us and that’s why these problems arise. We have been trying to get them to engage meaningfully with us from the start, with little success.’
No PCT has consulted the public, meaningfully or otherwise, on whether private firms should be allowed to bid for health contracts – because EU tendering rules mean private firms cannot be excluded from the bidding process.
There remain, in these uncertain economic times, question marks over who will pay to build these vast privatisation-domes. Department of Health rules state that all new health centres must be built and owned by a consortium of private contractors that rakes in a huge profit by renting the facilities back to PCTs for periods up to 35 years. Until the banking crash, these contractors had secured loans with ease – but getting credit isn’t so easy these days.
The entirely avoidable process of committing to costly Private Finance Initiative schemes has not gone unnoticed in Islington. In January, that borough’s PCT agreed to sell the Finsbury health centre. The Grade I listed building was designed by the Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin in 1938 and commissioned by the radical Labour council of the day to redress chronic deprivation. For the first time, health professionals including podiatrists, physiotherapists and children’s specialists and doctors worked alongside each other under one roof.
The model, which archive documents show informed Bevan on founding the NHS in 1948, was London’s first publicly-owned health centre and a precursor to what today are known as polyclinics. On the building’s opening, Lubetkin proudly proclaimed that ‘nothing is too good for ordinary people’. But according to PCT chief executive Rachel Tyndall, PFI means maintaining that vision is simply ‘not worth the money’. And so, in Islington, Nye’s dream has been cynically abandoned. Alan Johnson has yet to wake-up to that one.
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe