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Democrat - September 2006 (Number 97)

EU pushes privatisation of healthcare

Report by Brian Denny

NHS under attack

Following the exclusion of healthcare from the Services Directive, the European Commission has announced plans for a new separate directive by the end of the year to open up health services to free market competition.

Director of the Office of the EU Commissioner of Public Health Margaritis Schinas said: "We will come with a separate proposal on health services preferably by the end of the year”.

EU Court intervenes

Recent European Court of Justice rulings have assisted by using internal market arguments concerning healthcare contained within the original Services Directive.

In a recent landmark case, the ECJ ruled that British national Yvonne Watts was entitled to claim money back from the British health service for treatment carried out in France.

The Financial Times (17/5/06) reported that the court’s decision was a further step for the establishment of a single market for healthcare in the EU.

The Watts judgment forces countries to pay for treatment in other states and represents the thin end of a very big wedge for introducing full-blown market mechanisms into healthcare provision. 

Schinas went on to say that the ECJ ruling on patient mobility "clearly states that there is scope for community action to achieve public health objectives".

Advert for privateers

Just after this statement was made the Department of Health invited private companies to bid to spend vast sums of the multi-billion pound NHS budget.

A six-page advert in the Official Journal of the European Union asked private health insurers to apply to run key roles in Primary Care Trusts. PCTs control 80 per cent of the annual £80 billion NHS budget, funding GP surgeries, hospital operations and drugs.

The move effectively lets outside companies commission health services and represents a further break up of the NHS without any parliamentary debate or consultation.

Following an outcry from MPs and groups like the British Medical Association, the advert was withdrawn due to a 'drafting error'.

Ministers insisted the contracts were only related to financial management, public relations and human resources - and the companies would have nothing to do with clinical services.

However, only firms with experience of managing £300 million-plus health budgets have been invited to bid - meaning only US giants such as United Healthcare and Kaiser Permanente will be eligible.

The restriction on bidders also suggests that they would still have significant influence over the £65 billion NHS primary care budget.


BMA council chairman James Johnson told its annual conference in Belfast that doctors had to 'draw a line in the sand' and reject further privatisation.

He said allowing private health care companies to commission patient treatment, as well as run hospitals, clinics and even GP surgeries, was a step too far. "You don't have to be a financial wizard to work out if a private company runs the hospitals and also commissions the services, it adds up to a licence to print money," he said.


Former Health Secretary Frank Dobson said: "If this is not privatisation of the health service, I don't know what is. It is about putting multinational companies in the driving seat of the NHS".

This exactly describes what the European Commission is doing across a huge range of services and industries which includes ports, railways, insurance and postal services.

overnments across the European Union are putting austerity policies in place which include: massive cuts to welfare states, pressing down wages and pensions, and raising unemployment. The public sector is to be handed to privatisation with loss of accountability and no regard whatsoever for the social consequences.

   The ConDem Government has agreed that national budgets and therefore austerity policies be vetted by the European Commission. The budget must be in line with the EU’s Growth and Stability Pact where Britain has exceeded the limits on government borrowing of 60% of GDP and deficit of 3% of GDP - currently and respectively 71.4% and 11% (Office of National Statistics). EU Member States are to be fined if their budgets are not brought back into line with the Pact.

   The herd of elephants in the room consists of the policies and legislation of the EU enshrined in the European Constitution put in place last December.  This includes the four freedoms – “free movement of capital, services, goods and labour” within the EU super-state and all that entails.

   The simple alternative is to withdraw Britain from the EU and not be subject to the dictats of unelected EU institutions which act on behalf of the transnational corporations and banks against the interests of those who work for their living. The benefits would be economic, political and defence of democracy and accountability.