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 ×

Simon Stevens: undertaker for the NHS

Originally published in 2006, this article by John Lister provides a damning insight into the corporate history of the man now in charge of the NHS

October 24, 2013
5 min read

Last chance to save our NHS demo, by Loz Flowers on flickr, Feb 2013‘Over-paid, over-rated and over here’ may be the damning gut reaction to the giant US-owned health corporation, United Health Europe (UHE). But the Minneapolis-based parent company has been savvy enough to front its British operation with a native English management team, including one with impeccable Blairite credentials – former Downing Street advisor Simon Stevens. Almost two years after vacating his post, Stevens is still on the select list of people invited to dine with Blair at Chequers. As health policy advisor to Frank Dobson, Alan Milburn and Tony Blair, Stevens was widely seen as the author of the NHS Plan, which in 2000 set course towards increased privatisation and market-style reforms. Stepping out of Downing Street in 2004, he moved swiftly and seamlessly into the private sector. He had been in touch with UHE for the previous two years, during which time they landed their first NHS contract. Stevens is now reportedly pocketing a salary of £150,000 as president of UHE, and his bosses in the US clearly feel it is worth paying so highly for his services. As the architect behind the controversial ‘modernisation’ of the NHS, Stevens has a clear view of the most promising and profitable targets for UHE’s activities.

Not surprisingly, UHE has not even bothered trying to replicate its role in private health insurance, which is a mainstay of its highly profitable US parent company – whose annual turnover is almost £16 billion. The existence of the NHS with its universal health cover has left private medical insurance as a relatively marginal activity in the UK, covering just 12 per cent of the population. Instead, like a shark scenting fresh blood, UHE, steered by Stevens and by its chief executive, former British Medical Journal editor, Richard Smith, has zeroed in on much bigger prey – the juicy prospect of controlling hundreds of millions of pounds in the commissioning budgets of primary care trusts. The possibility of opening up this vast source of income for companies such as UHE was created by New Labour’s determined efforts to establish market-style competition in the health service – as proposed by Simon Stevens.

Still only 39, Stevens’ career has been characterised by a whistle-stop progress. His university education was at Oxford, Strathclyde and New York’s Ivy League Columbia university. According to his CV on the UHE website, he has since managed to slot in appearances as a ‘health authority director, general manager of a mental health service, and a group manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’s university hospitals’ in addition to working in Africa, South America and the USA. All this before spending seven years as the government’s health policy advisor from the age of 30.

Having acquired a passing acquaintance with sections of the NHS, Stevens now writes regularly for the influential management weekly, Health Service Journal, and has also managed to secure himself an academic niche as visiting professor at the London School of Economics. The LSE connection also furnished the government with Stevens’ successor as health advisor, the rabidly pro-market Julian Le Grand. Stevens, whose official biographical notes say that his policy interests include ‘strengthening the healthcare “payer”/purchaser function’, has shown himself a much smoother operator than Le Grand, whose appointment as health advisor triggered a noisy moan from public sector unions. Stevens and Richard Smith have been willing to meet and debate with Unison and other unions, attempting to present an acceptable face of commercial medicine and privatised care.

But however affable its front men may be, the track record of UHE in delivering any of their claimed benefits to the NHS is less than impressive. The £4 million spent on 18-month pilot studies of the ‘Evercare’ programme, modelled on United’s highly profitable policies of restricting access to hospital for older patients in the US appears to have yielded few useful results. Instead of the 50 per cent reduction in hospital admissions claimed in the US, an independent review of the pilot schemes in nine English primary care trusts early in 2005 found that as few as 1 per cent of admissions were avoided.

Despite its signal lack of success in delivering the promised results, UHE has moved on to win further NHS contracts to collect information and advise on the targeting of services. It has also just controversially secured ‘preferred bidder’ status in its attempts to buy its way in to the provision of GP services in Derbyshire. Even if the contract portfolio of UHE is still small beer for its giant parent corporation, Stevens knows better than most where an acorn planted today in strategic sectors of the NHS can generate a profit tree for years to come. UHE’s corporate profit margin is currently in excess of 12 percent – suggesting that even winning a relatively small slice of NHS commissioning budgets could soon put a smile on the faces of directors and shareholders in Minnesota, while British GPs, patients and health workers count the cost in lost services.

John Lister is information director of London Health Emergency

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

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

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency


49