Lucy Findlay

Profiteering from the NHS – have we reached a new low?

Back in 2014, I predicted that we would, in the future, question the values that are used to make public spending decisions.  However, we now seem to have reached a new low.

Following an unsuccessful bid for a children’s services contract in Surrey, Virgin Care had threatened legal action.  This has resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds (if not a few million) being taken out of the local cash-strapped NHS, which could have been used to help diagnose and treat people of all ages, in order to settle the dispute out of court.

Virgin Care has the power of a big corporation and a team of lawyers behind its every move.  Most tenderers could not, and would not, sue the NHS if they failed in a bid.  However, when the internal values of the business are first and foremost commerciality, the logical step is to challenge if you can.  I also wonder if this tactic will make other Commissioners think twice about turning down a Virgin Care bid?

With more than 400 contracts, Virgin Care has a growing track record in the health and social care world, but at what price?  They might make a big deal about how they will improve services and treat staff well, but someone has to suffer with profit maximisation being squeezed from the tight NHS budget.  The cuts in front-line staff ultimately lead to a poorer service for patients, who have no choice in the matter.

At least in this case the winners of the bid were two social enterprises and an NHS Trust, which will not be focused on creating profits for shareholders.  Surely it would make sense for this to become a more explicit criterion for commissioners to judge a contract?  Not only is it better value for money, but the values of the service are aligned to NHS delivery.

My Christmas message, and wish for 2018, is that public spending decisions need to become more values based!