Leading NHS hospitals face Office of Fair Trading probe

“Old boy” networks in the NHS too

Leading NHS hospitals, family doctors and consultants face investigation over allegedly unfair practices by the Office of Fair Trading.

Britain’s consumer watchdog is looking at whether or not the private healthcare market is “fully competitive” but the increasing liberalisation of the state-run service means it will also come under scrutiny.

It is claimed by some independent firms that NHS hospitals which treat private patients are not competing on a level playing field, as their buildings and services are paid for by the taxpayer. In addition, some GPs are said to only refer patients to particular consultant surgeons, making it difficult for others to get business.

The OFT probe could prove embarrassing to the Government as its health service reforms will see more hospitals encouraged to take on private patients, and family doctors given power to choose any provider for treatment.

James Gubb, director of the health unit at the think-tank Civitas, said: “If they do uncover a cosy relationship between GPs and consultants, that does have implications for the role they are going to be taking in leading commissioning. “If they operate like that, the market isn’t going to be very competitive and not the best deal for patients.”

The private healthcare market in Britain is estimated to be worth at least £5.8billion a year as more people take out private medical insurance or pay for procedures themselves, particularly services such as infertility treatment that are rationed on the NHS.

But over the past decade successful NHS hospitals known as Foundation Trusts have also been allowed to treat privately-paying patients, such as wealthy foreigners or those with insurance policies, in special Private Patient Units.

Up until now there has been a cap on the proportion of their income – which must be ploughed back into health services – they can make from private patients but this is set to be removed.

In addition, many leading consultants carry out private surgery when they are not on the rota at their state-run operating theatres. They can receive referrals from GPs, who under the controversial Health and Social Care Bill will be given control of £80billion of the NHS budget to purchase treatment from “any willing provider” including private firms as well as state-run hospitals.

Last year a new private firm that is to take over an NHS hospital, Circle, complained to the OFT that the healthcare market was “anti-competitive” because it said leading insurance firms would only cover customers if they were treated by established firms.

But on Thursday the OFT published a document setting out the final scope of its investigation, which confirmed that it would also look at the position of Private Patient Units in the NHS and the role of consultants.

The document says that respondents to its consultation complained that: “Private Patient Units appear to enjoy several unfair competitive advantages including access to state funded pensions, corporation and VAT exemptions, no regulatory fees and access to facilities such as NHS intensive care units, and that the NHS is cross-subsidising Private Patient Units to create an unlevel playing field with private healthcare providers.”

The OFT will also examine “the role of GPs, consultants and private medical insurance providers in advising consumers of their healthcare choices”, and whether or not patients “are given choices as to which consultants to use”.

Jocelyn Ormond, a corporate partner at the legal firm Beachcroft, said: “The focus on the NHS’s role as a provider of privately-funded healthcare is likely to shine a light on the way in which Private Patient Units are operated and the way in which they are arguably cross-subsidised by the taxpayer-funded part of the NHS bodies, and whether that raises competition and state aid issues.”

General Healthcare Group, the UK’s largest independent provider of private healthcare, said: “We welcome the OFT’s final statement of scope and, in particular, its support for our view that private healthcare provision is now very much a mixed market including traditional private providers as well as the NHS. We are pleased that the more extended scope announced by the OFT reflects how many others in this mixed market, such as insurers, GPs and consultants, impact on its operation and on the service and information received by patients.”

Ali Parsa, the chief executive of Circle, said: “As the Government push the boundaries of patient choice in the public healthcare market, it’s encouraging to see the OFT applying the same standards in their scrutiny of the private healthcare market. “The NHS has opened its doors to competition from the private sector, but the private sector is protected from competition from new entrants and NHS providers by closed networks that some private providers are keen to maintain.”

Sue Slipman, the director of the Foundation Trust Network, said it was unlikely that use of Private Patient Units would increase greatly now that waiting times are much shorter than in previous years. “It seems to me that a lot of the reason for going private has been taken away, except where you can see Primary Care Trusts rationing services like in infertility.”

The OFT, which says it has identified “significant issues” in the private healthcare market, expects to publish a final study by the end of 2011.

It could lead to recommendations being made for the industry or even “enforcement action” being taken against businesses suspected of breaching consumer or competition laws.


World’s top 100 universities 2011: their reputations ranked by Times Higher Education

Harvard University ranks highest in the world according to the Times Higher Education for reputation in teaching and research.
The US boasts the most reputable universities in the world according to a new global reputation ranking out today.

The list published today by the Times Higher Education, is the first of its kind looking solely at the reputations of institutions for teaching and research. Harvard comes top closely followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) beating both Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The US dominates with seven universities in the top ten and a massive 45 in the total rankings. Taking 12 of the places in the top 100, the UK is second to the US with Cambridge university beating Oxford. Imperial College, University College London (UCL), London School of Economics and Edinburgh University also make the top 50.

The rankings based on a survey of 13,388 academics over 131 countries is the largest evaluation of academic reputation and is used partly used in indicators for compiling the well-known Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The rankings also show Japan beating Canada, Australia and Germany with the flagship, University of Tokyo, at eighth place making it the only other nation apart from the US and UK to feature in the top ten.

With university fees rocketing and more applicants fighting for places, university reputation is set to be an even bigger focus for prospective students.

Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, said: “In an ever more competitive global market for students, academics and university administrators a university’s reputation for academic excellence is crucial.”

More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Back to basics: British education boss sweeps aside 102 ‘woolly standards’ teachers are expected to meet in bid to weed out the incompetent

TEACHING standards will be overhauled to remove incompetent teachers, Michael Gove said yesterday. In a scathing attack, the Education Secretary said the current skills required of teachers are ‘woolly, meaningless and fluffy’ concepts.

Of the 102 so-called standards, just two state the need for good ‘subject and curriculum knowledge’. Four focus on health and safety and three on a ‘commitment to co-operative learning’. Other immeasurable targets include ‘a creative and constructive approach towards innovation’.

Mr Gove, launching a review of teachers’ standards, said he would axe the myriad of current skills required and replace them with a small ‘rigorous’ core. Teachers who do not meet these standards will be axed. The move will make it far easier for heads to sack bad teachers. It will also make it harder to qualify, ensuring only the best enter the profession.

The radical move will be the first major overhaul of standards in more than two decades.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders, Mr Gove said: ‘We need to make sure those already in the classroom are continuously improving. ‘Headteachers have told me in no uncertain terms that standards are ineffective, meaningless and muddy, fluffy concepts.’

Since few of the standards are measurable, it is hard for heads to sack poor teachers on the grounds that they have failed to meet them.

Mr Gove said a ‘simple and clear set of skills’ – of which there will be fewer than ten – will ensure teachers have a thorough knowledge of their subject, good literacy and numeracy and can crack down on bad behaviour. The new standards will be imposed in September 2012.


Back to Prohibition?

Professor David Nutt – the former government advisor on drug policy – argued in the Guardian yesterday that there is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption. I’m not convinced – as one commenter points out, he uses some anecdotal evidence and an extremely strict definition of ‘safety’ – but for the sake of argument, let’s say that Nutt’s right and alcohol really IS a lot more harmful than we currently think. What would the policy implications be?

For a start, you might want the government to inform people so that they make an informed decision about their drinking. People tend to be distrustful of government information but I suppose it’s worth a shot. It might also encourage rebellious teenagers to drink more, but teenagers like drinking plenty already. Some would want to tax alcohol more highly to discourage drinking. If people are sufficiently informed about the dangers it seems too paternalistic to try to make them act as we’d like them to, but it’s a popular position.

There are plenty of other regulations that people would have across the board, but almost nobody would propose to prohibit alcohol consumption altogether, even if it was shown to be rather more harmful than Nutt is saying. Most people understand that outlawing something altogether makes it more dangerous. As during Prohibition in the US (PDF), a black market would grow (funding organized crime), alcohol would become more dangerous (brewed in people’s bathtubs and cut with things we’d rather not drink), and people would be put into prison for doing things in the privacy of their own home that didn’t really affect anybody but themselves.

On that last point, I hate to think of the social consequences of jailing thousands of people for victimless crimes. Prohibition didn’t work the last time round, and it wouldn’t be any more effective if we suddenly learned that alcohol was a physical evil rather than a moral evil. Most people know these things and accept that even if they hated alcohol’s effect on others, it would be foolish to try to outlaw it.

So why do we have precisely the opposite view of recreational drugs? A social and individual harm reduction policy against a dangerous alcohol would fall far short of outright prohibition. Applying the policy to alcohol has and would be a failure, irrespective of alcohol’s harmfulness. What reason is there to think that cannabis, ecstasy, mephadrone – and even heroin and crack, for that matter – are any different?


Cowardly British rescue workers worried about their own health and safety ‘leave man to die’ in 3ft of water

Police and firemen sign up to take risks — but not in Britain, apparently

MORE than a dozen emergency workers refused to pull a man from a waist-deep boating lake because of ‘health and safety’ fears. For half-an-hour charity shop worker Simon Burgess, 41, was left face down in the shallow water as they waited for a specialist rescue crew.

Mr Burgess, who had gone to the lake to feed the swans, was pronounced dead at the scene but friends claim that if rescuers had waded straight into the water he could have been saved.

The crews of two fire engines, two police cars, two ambulances and an air ambulance were told not to enter the lake, which is no more than three feet (one metre) at its deepest point, in case they ‘compromised their safety’.

The water rescue crew finally arrived – 26 minutes after Mr Burgess was seen falling in – and the ‘specialists’ removed him using nothing more technical than waterproof clothing and buoyant jackets.

Mr Burgess, who suffered blackouts following brain surgery, was a former sailing instructor and IT consultant.

Friends and family reacted with fury yesterday when they discovered that firemen, paramedics and police first on the scene did not wade in to help.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue decided there was ‘no obvious sign of life’ when they arrived at Walpole Park Lake, in Gosport, Hampshire, on Thursday lunchtime. So their health and safety regulations deemed that: ‘Immediate entry into the water was not appropriate as it may have compromised the lives of others.’

Mr Burgess’s body was about 25 yards from the water’s edge when emergency services arrived. The bottom of the pond is muddy as it was formerly used as a cockle lake.Trina Horey, 47, assistant manager at the charity shop where Mr Burgess volunteered, said: ‘I’m furious that witnesses and the emergency services stood by and watched while waiting for the specialist team to drive all the way from Fareham.

‘If they had acted sooner, they may have saved him. Just because Simon wasn’t moving, it doesn’t mean he was dead. ‘He had brain surgery several years ago, was on medication and suffered occasional blackouts. Sometimes he would just stand there but more recently he had been falling over. The blackouts would last between three minutes and 15 minutes.’

Mrs Horey last saw Mr Burgess at 11am on Thursday when he said he was off to feed the birds on the lake, which he did every lunchtime. She added: ‘He was due to return to work later that afternoon but when [the staff] heard what happened they were devastated and closed early as a mark of respect.’

Roy Dore, who lives next door to Mr Burgess’s one-bedroom flat, yesterday described the police’s actions as ‘ridiculous and unbelievable’. The 75-year-old said: ‘It doesn’t make sense, it was just two feet of water – any person could have jumped in to help. ‘If someone falls in the water and there’s a policeman nearby, surely they should jump in and help.’

The fire service and police say they did not enter the water as their regulations ban them from doing so – only specially trained water unit firefighters are allowed to go in.

Hampshire Police’s corporate communications officer Neil Miller admitted that the officers’ actions were for ‘health and safety reasons’, but defended their decision.

Superintendent Phil Winchester said: ‘The circumstances surrounding the man’s death are currently being investigated by police.’

The South Central Ambulance Service said Mr Burgess had suffered a suspected cardiac arrest.

Gosport Council said the lake’s depth was one-and-a-half feet (0.5m) at the edges and up to three feet (1m) in the centre, 182 feet wide and 333 long.


Another week, another free-speech defying ban in Britain

We read:

“This particular ban involved a set of British Humanist Association (BHA) adverts featuring the slogan, ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so’. The reason for this rather oblique command is that the BHA wants people in the UK to respond to the 2011 UK census question ‘What is your religion?’ by ticking the box marked ‘no religion’.

Unfortunately for the BHA, the owners of advertising space in UK rail stations, aided and abetted by advice from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice, have not only correctly discerned a ‘religious nature’ to the BHA’s campaign, they have also decided that such ads are likely to cause ‘widespread’ and ‘serious offence’. And where there’s offence to be caused, censorship is sure to follow.


Nobody is allowed to offend anybody in Britain, apparently. Doing all sorts of violent crimes is OK however. Read how much this Muslim guy got away with before they finally locked him up. I’ll bet his victims felt pretty offended.

With government priorities like that I pity people who have to live in Britain. No wonder so many emigrate.


About jonjayray

I am former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party. The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody
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