Privatisation has long been held up as a panacea to the NHS’s problems. The first ‘PFI’ (Private Finance Initiative) schemes in the 90s were hailed as a possible solution to the NHS’s difficulties in funding large capital projects, like new hospital buildings, under the Major and Blair governments. Since then, it’s been estimated that taxpayers’ money will be used to pay more than five times over what those PFI assets are worth, at £57bn. Private money into the NHS meant public liability, many times over, for no private risk.
But far from taking the lesson that private money to fund the NHS causes it greater problems, the NHS leadership’s most recent move to meet its under-funding is to approach City hedge funds to borrow £10 billion. This marks a quantum leap in privatising our NHS.
Hedge funds are investment companies using private wealth to invest in a wide range of businesses and ventures. Their most striking characteristic is their almost completely unregulated nature. They are set up deliberately to avoid most financial regulation and are by their nature far from transparent. They exist for but one purpose: to make a profit. Many now think the NHS is ‘inefficient’ and the City will be its salvation.
Benefit for all, it is assumed, will somehow trickle down as capital is invested and profits returned. Yet it will not. It will stay firmly in the deepening pockets of the wealthy fund investors, who are not accountable to the public in any way. The only ultimate benefactors of any deal between City hedge funds and the NHS will be the very few with the privilege and fortune to be a part of the machine. The rest of us will keep paying, through our taxes, for years to come.