Reform is a right-wing think tank that claims to be ‘independent’. Like many think tanks they have charity status, although when you look at their work, it is hard to see where the charitable part exists. They are setting the agenda for our public services in meetings that only they know who was in attendance.
Reform has and continues to be influential in the attacks on the NHS. A document written by the health lobby group the NHS Partners Network revealed Reform’s involvement in setting up meetings with key players of the NHS Future Forum and Monitor during the ‘health bill ‘pause’.
Reform were part of an ‘orchestrating of the Telegraph’s editorial during the Health bill ‘pause’, working together with the director of the NHS Partners Network, David Worskett.
Collaboration between the two makes sense when you look at their ties to the private healthcare industry. The NHS Partners Network has several members who have MPS and Lords on their payroll. These include Circle, who pay Mark Simmonds £50,000 a year for 10 hours a month as a strategic advisor. Another company are Care UK, whose owner, John Nash, donated money to run Lansley’s office when he was shadow health secretary. Furthermore Care UK were purchased by Bridgepoint who have BBC Chief, Lord Patten of Barnes as an advisor.
Reform, who remember are a ‘charity’, have multiple healthcare companies as their corporate partners. Current members are: ABI, Aviva, Balfour Beatty, Benenden Healthcare Society, Bevan Brittan, BG Group, BVCA, Cable & Wireless, Capita, CH2M Hill, Clifford Chance, Citigroup, The City of London, Ernst & Young, GlaxoSmithKline, G4S, GE, General Healthcare Group, HP, ICAEW, KPMG, Maximus, McKesson, MSD, Optical Confederation, PA Consulting Group, Serco, Sodexo and Telereal Trillium.
General Healthcare Group own BMI Healthcare who are the UK’s largest hospital group. When Circle produced a press release showing how they have managed to ‘turnaround’ Hitchingbrooke hospital, Reform were very quickly onto the case promoting the need for more hospital outsourcing. This is also because their Head of Communications, Nick Seddon used to do PR for Circle. He has since been replaced by Andrew Lansely’s former aide Christina Lineen.
One can’t help wonder what is charitable about this.
One can’t help wonder what is charitable about this.
Further connections are available to Reform through Lord Carter who acts as Chair for McKesson Information Solutions Ltd, which delivers IT to “virtually every NHS organisation”. Lord Carter is The head of the increasingly influential Competition and Cooperation Panel. McKesson released a statement on this potential conflict of interest to the Guardian, stating: "Lord Carter steps down from any investigation where there is potential conflict of interest.”
Reform are also invited to meetings where minutes are not taken with Parliamentarians present. In April this year, as the government were in their so-called ‘listening period’, Reform hosted an event with Lord Warner as chair.
Lord Warner is a former adviser to Apax Partners, one of the leading global investors in the healthcare sector. Current director of Sage Advice Ltd. He works as an adviser to Xansa, a technology firm, and Byotrol, an antimicrobial company, which both sell services or products to the NHS” and was “paid by DLA Piper, which advised ministers on the £12 billion IT project for the NHS” projects that he was responsible for when he was a government minister.
The meeting was held under Chatham House Rules, which are a near century old rule that are used to supposedly allow participants to speak freely with fear of their words being highlighted in the media. What it means is that the public have no idea what was said as no minutes are taken and none of the participants can announce to the public who was there. Therefore information that comes out from these meetings is controlled.
Even so, despite this, thanks to a post-meeting feedback by Comunications head Nick Seddon, we know that competition was on the agenda, and that there will be a need for ‘constant political pressure if either competition or integration is to be achieved.’ Not only that, but true to their partners needs, hospitals were discussed and it was considered that: ‘Dealing with failing hospitals will either be through outsourcing, radical reconfiguration, or closure.’
Reform like using Chatham House Rules, which says much about their attitude towards transparency. In February 2012, they held another meeting without minutes, which spoke of the need to reform ‘fast and at scale.’ Thanks to the introduction, we know that Julian Le Grand was in attendance. In the same month, In a letter to the Guardian, in February this year, Mr Le Grand, stated: ‘With respect to the NHS bill, it is important that even those who generally prefer to rely upon their instuitions should avoid muddying the waters by accusing the bill of doing things that it does not, like privatising the NHS.’
Thanks to their feedback, we know that they spoke about whether there ‘should any areas of public service delivery be off-limits?’ The answer to this being, ‘in principle…“no”’. A further idea was the need to ‘go back to the idea behind Compulsory Competitive Tendering’. This former Conservative policy was introduced in the UK throughout the 1980s, but was dropped following resistance from local authorities and health trusts. The policy focused on price at the expense of quality and employment conditions, leading to a demoralised staff, that this should be being discussed a possibility is very worrying indeed.
So we know that Reform were holding meetings without minutes with key figures, though who many of them were remains unknown. They were part of the ‘orchestration’ of the Telegraph’s editorial, and were heavily promoting the benefits of outsourcing hospitals of which one of the corporate partners would be a beneficiary. They continue to push for the further role of private companies in the NHS many of whom are the partners and are linked to our so-called public servants. They call themselves a charity, which is patently absurd, and if we are to call ourselves a democracy, the use of organisations like this must not use the Chatham House Rules, which are used widely across political organisations.
Keep an eye out they are influencing the future of our public services.