Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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  

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali


49