Private takeover of Hinchingbrooke Hospital is the shape of things to come in Britain
Hinchingbrooke Hospital has become the first to be taken over by a private firm. The Telegraph’s Andrew Porter believes it won’t be the last
The warning lights will have been flashing in the Department of Health over today’s announcement that failing Hinchingbrooke hospital is to become the first to be run by a private company.
The length of time – more than a year – that the Treasury has taken to sign off the deal, which sees Circle Healthcare parachuted into the Cambridgeshire hospital, reflects concern at the highest level. Ministers will strenuously deny, but are acutely sensitive to, the charge that this is nothing other than privatisation of the NHS.
The unions, Labour and nervous Liberal Democrats, will claim that this is the thin end of the wedge. A familiar left-right battleground is drawn.
Department of Health sources were last night talking about “management franchises” rather than privatisation. That is unlikely to assuage anyone other than those who already argue that the NHS needs more, not less, private sector involvement.
But in the interests of the taxpayer a failing hospital with a £40 million deficit needs to be tackled.
David Cameron and Mr Lansley have to find cash, not least because by surrendering to the Lib Dems over the Health and Social Care Bill, promised savings are diminished.
But these moves come at what cost politically? At a time when some Labour MPs privately despair about their electoral chances under Ed Miliband, they have to grasp at positives. The economy at the moment is one, and the NHS, potentially, another.
Mr Cameron has handled the Coalition’s health policy disastrously. He allowed Mr Lansley to embark on his radical shake-up of the NHS believing during a honeymoon period of office he would be cut some slack. He was badly mistaken.
He can ill afford handing further ammunition to already angry healthcare unions and a Labour party desperate to convince people that the “same old Tories cannot be trusted with the NHS.”
Many Tory MPs will welcome today’s move and argue that it is right to cast aside failing and wasteful management regimes and install private firms which, while maintaining high standards of patient care, can get to grips with a public sector culture that has failed.
They will urge Mr Lansley to bold and say that Hinchingbrooke, while the first hospital to be handed over to a private firm, it will not be the last.
Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form: 200,000 got handouts last year without face-to-face interview
Another British bureaucracy that is totally incompetent
Almost 200,000 people were granted a disability benefit last year without ever having a face-to-face assessment. A staggering 94 per cent of new claimants for Disability Living Allowance started receiving their payments after only filling out paperwork.
Official figures released last night revealed that 16 per cent of new claimants received the benefit – worth £70 a week – after merely filling out a claim form. A further 36 per cent provided supporting evidence, while another 42 per cent provided a GP report, according to the Department for Work and Pensions. In total they were paid more than £300million last year.
The figures mean only 6 per cent of new claimants got their money after a face-to-face assessment. Critics warned that thousands of benefits cheats were being allowed to ‘slip through the net’ while changes to the system come into force.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was wrong that so many people who are paid the benefit were not asked for any evidence to support their claim beyond sending some paperwork in the post – and then get to keep it for years without being reassessed.
Ministers are replacing DLA with a Personal Independence Payment. Under the new system, every case will have to be assessed by a health care professional, usually in person. But the new system does not come into force until 2013/14.
DLA is currently paid to 3.2million at an annual cost of £12billion – the same as the Department of Transport’s entire budget for 2010/11. It is designed to help those who have specific mobility or care needs, and cannot do things like walk or wash and dress themselves. It is paid most often for arthritis, learning difficulties, psychosis and back pain.
This makes it different from Incapacity Benefit – now renamed Employment and Support Allowance – which is paid to people because they are not well enough to work.
The number of people claiming DLA has soared by more than two million from 1.1million in 1992. More than 70 per cent of existing claimants are on DLA for life without facing any regular checks. Fraud and error statistics show that £600million is currently wasted on DLA in overpayments.
There is increasing political controversy over Mr Duncan Smith’s pledge to slash £2.17billion from the vast annual bill for DLA by 2015. Cuts to DLA are increasingly being criticised by charities and opposition MPs. Disability campaigners have warned that the new testing regime is flawed and has prompted fear and anxiety among the most vulnerable people in society.
But ministers say face-to-face assessments are essential to make sure the benefit is going to those with the greatest need. Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘At the moment, hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form. ‘We are introducing the Personal Independence Payment with a new objective assessment and regular reviews to make sure people are getting the right levels of support.
‘The face-to-face assessment will also give people the chance to meet with a healthcare professional and discuss their condition, rather than trying to self-assess.’
Evidence suggests that only a very small proportion of DLA claimants will get the benefit under the new testing regime.
Ministers have already switched to more stringent assessments for the replacement for Incapacity Benefit – and found that only 7 per cent of new claimants are sick enough to receive the handout. Thirty-nine per cent of first-time claimants for the new Employment and Support Allowance were deemed fit enough to work.
A third dropped their application before it was completed, while a further 17 per cent were judged able to do some form of work with the right help and support.
Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: ‘The Coalition is bringing in changes to welfare that will mean fewer people can abuse taxpayers’ money by wrongly claiming DLA. However, whilst we wait for these changes to come fully into effect there is a chance that more cheats have slipped through the net.’
But Labour councillor Neil Coyle, of the Disability Alliance, which represents 250 disability charities, said face-to-face tests would cost £675million.
Spend £27,000 on university? No, thank you…
Katya Edward would rather concentrate on work experience than spend £27,000 on going to university
When I tell people I’m not going to university, I am often met with shock and pity. I have the qualifications – three A-levels, including two As – but not the inclination.
This autumn, I have watched each and every one of my friends leave home for higher education. My entire school life had been based on preparing me for university. In Year Seven, my teachers would hold up failed maths exams and bellow, “You will never go to university if you carry on like this”. In sixth form, I had two classes a week devoted solely to my Ucas application; and after I’d been suspended for a second time, the headmaster put his head in his hands and sighed, “Well, there’s always secretarial college”.
So higher education of some kind was not an option, it was a given. Now, when people find out that I am not participating in this rite of passage, they tend to assume that I am either about to come into a huge amount of money or that I failed my A-levels. Neither of which is the case: I just don’t want to go.
I became disillusioned with the idea of university when I realised that every one of my friends was applying. Not just the clever ones, or those who wanted to carry on studying: all of them – including those who “simply couldn’t miss out on freshers’ week”.
But the intensive competition for truly desirable courses meant the majority had to settle for subjects of minimal interest. My two best friends, neither of whom is entirely unintelligent, both applied to relatively competitive universities because of pushy parents and the assumption that university is everything. They have ended up studying Construction Management and Sports Performance Studies.
I don’t think anyone has ever turned around to a builder and demanded: “Before you put up that scaffolding, do you have a degree in construction management?” Or said to an athlete: “That was the most impressive triple jump we’ve ever seen. Did you learn that in sports performance studies?”
People try and convince me that I will be unable to get a job without a degree in the current economic climate. But I believe that if I fetch enough coffees in a enough offices, learn about the businesses in which I’m fetching those coffees and make friends with the people whose coffee I’ve fetched, then I am more likely to end up with a paid job than someone who has a 2:2 in Animal Psychology from the University of Wolverhampton — no disrespect to animal psychologists or Wolverhampton.
I believe that being interesting, charismatic and driven – and I am working on all three – are worth more than any degree. In my experience, the people who end up relying on a degree are those who have not been brave enough to back their own ambitions or follow a path that their friends have disparaged.
If you love a subject, you should pursue it, carry on studying and, hey, maybe even get a degree in it. But most of the people that I know don’t go to university to study something they enjoy. They go so they can spend three years making friends, getting drunk and ending up with some sort of clue about work at the end of it.
I’m quite sure that if you try hard enough, you can do all of those things without shelling out £27,000.