The NHS and commercial confidentiality

The coalition government is about to destroy the finest feature of our welfare state, the NHS.   The process began under Labour, but has got much worse with Andrew Lansley, who has close links with private medical providers who will be anxious to get into the market.

It’s a profoundly undemocratic move; it was in neither party’s manifesto, nor in the Coalition Agreement.  They hope we will have forgotten by the time their allotted term is up, but it is unlikely. Those of us who love the NHS must use the time from now until this shower of looters is overthrown to work out ways of resurrecting it, better and prouder than before, as the first act of the new government.  Unpicking the long-term contracts into which Mr Lansley’s chums will have signed us without falling foul of EU law or incurring unfair penalty clauses will be difficult; and rebuilding a comprehensive, true NHS from the ruins equally challenging.

This excellent piece by Allyson Pollock shows how “commercial confidentiality” will be used to keep secret the details of the new contracts with private-sector health providers.

I have said it many times before, but “commercial in confidence” are three words that have no place in any commercial exchange, least of all one to which the public sector is a party. It’s our money you’re spending, and we have a right to know what you’re doing with it.  Dodgy deals are never done in the open; it doesn’t follow that all secret deals are dodgy deals, but the way to avoid dodgy deals is to insist that all deals be done in the full blaze of sunlight (the best disinfectant, as the learned judge said).  I think we have a general right to assume that any deal done in secret is dodgy.

So the first act of a new, NHS-friendly government in May 2015 or before, should be to enact a law requiring publication of  the details of all the contracts made between commissioning groups and private-sector suppliers. If nothing else, it will let the world start to work out how we can unpick the deals.

The only sort of confidentiality the NHS should protect is the confidentiality of its patients.

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