Theresa May appoints Tory Peer who advocates NHS privatisation to crucial 'independent' NHS Chairman role

The man who Theresa May has just appointed Chairman of the NHS, Tory Peer Lord Prior of Brampton – who will take over from Sir Malcolm Grant in the autumn – attended a secret conference in 2013 which was held specifically to discuss privatisation of the NHS.

The seminar, which took place in Windsor and included discussions on topics such as “private health insurance growth opportunities”, was organised by the private healthcare firm, McKinsey, who tried to block details of the conference being made public.

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McKinsey currently makes millions of pounds from fulfilling outsourced contracts to supply services to the NHS, as well as advising private healthcare clients.

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The Chair of NHS England is responsible for ensuring the strategic direction of NHS England, which is the body responsible for arranging the provision of healthcare services.

It is then perhaps worrisome, at the least, that Lord Prior has before said that the NHS is too big and cumbersome and “even God would struggle to manage it“. How’s that for the can-do attitude of the man pegged as responsible for the strategic trajectory of the thing?

The ‘big’, ‘cumbersome’ nature of the NHS is, also, as many will recognise, merely a dog whistle to the lascivious hounds of privatisation – be they Ministers with hands in naughty places or insurance companies and other corporate beasts – waiting in the shadows ready to pounce.

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It is therefore unsurprising that Lord Prior has said that the premise of a tax funded NHS “has to be questioned” if economic growth lags behind demand.

The peer went so far as to lead a debate in the Lords on the issue of whether we should move to a paid-for NHS, not funded through taxation. At it, he said:

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“All forms of funding must be looked at. We have to have a plurality of funding if we are to have a sustainable NHS. Whether the extra funding comes from compulsory insurances or certain charges matters not, but it has to come.”

The fact that Lord Prior is making statements such as these is a concern. The individual in charge of the NHS’ strategic direction should worry solely about continuing its long and gloried history – not of adapting it to some market model.

Lord Prior – from his record – appears to be a staunch advocate of the interference of private enterprises into public services. The man has founded two free schools.

His infatuation with a private model of healthcare was seen clearly when he enjoyed a £3,000 all-expenses-paid trip to tour private US hospitals with consulting firm, McKinsey.

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Not only this, but he has stated firmly in the past that more competition is needed in the NHS to drive up standards.

Such a sentiment is stupid as well as terrifying. The idea that a sick person exercises rational choice is entirely without merit.

Labour have expressed doubts over Lord Prior’s appointment, in any event, because he is a Tory Peer and was a former MP in government from 2015 to 2017. Indeed, he was a junior Minister in the health department under Jeremy Hunt.

Such a CV undermines what is supposed to be one of the purposes of the office of Chair of NHS England – a supposedly independent and unpoliticised office, free from partisanship.

The politicisation of the office comes after Lord Prior’s predecessor’s apparent incompetence. Sir Malcolm Grant said prior to his appointment that he did not even use the NHS and he found some of the plans for reforms to be unintelligible.

It also continues the burgeoning appointment of Tories to non-political roles as seen when Baroness Harding was named Chair of NHS Improvement.

Across the spectrum of the Tory line-up, it comes to feel as though the precious NHS is being cradled by jewel thieves.

Matt Hancock himself, the new Health Secretary and the person who signed off on Lord Prior’s appointment, has received over £32,000.00 in donations from a think tank that wants the NHS abolished and privatised.

Matt Hancock, of course, succeeded Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. Hunt co-authored a book that called for the NHS to be replaced with private insurance.

On Monday, the Health and Social Care Committee will question Lord Prior. Although they cannot block appointments, one hopes they will at least snarl and bare their teeth and reveal all the horrid little secrets he’s got to hide, which may affect his suitability to lead strategy in our NHS.

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