Is this the next stage of the NHS privatisation plan?
The online social enterprise community – of which I may now well be an honorary member – has had some debate about the importance or otherwise of the Secretary of State for Health’s recent definition, for the first time in English law, of what it is to be a social enterprise, which I covered here, and originally here.
David at Beanbags and Bullshit gives links and a good overview of the debate, which boils down to different views on whether the definition set out in the new Healthwatch regulations will come to act as precedent, replicated in other legislation and in broader NHS (and other departmental) policy, or whether it’s strictly focused on the very narrow, and relatively unimportant issue (given their lack of real power) of who will get to run Local Healthwatches.
To date, my own position on this has been simply ”I don’t know”. On the one hand, it has been difficult to work out how exactly this new definition might be used as a lever for privatisation of NHS services. On the other, it’s a puzzle as to why the Department of Health would go to so much trouble expanding the usual conception of social enterprise to include private firms as long as they don’t take out more than 50% from profits in any one financial year, unless there was some kind of plan to expand its use beyond the financially unimportant Healthwatch scheme.
However, the news emerging about Monitor’s Fair playing Field recommendation, that private health firms should become exempt from corporation tax on their NHS profits, has me leaning a little towards the latter interpretation, namely that the Healthwatch regulations form part of some devilishly clever scheme.
I find it difficult to believe that Osborne will find it politically feasible to stand up at the next budget and announce this new tax break in the face of a popular swell against tax avoidance, however much it might be sold on the grounds that Any Qualified Provider private firms currently suffer from unfavourable cost terms when compared with the NHS itself. That would surely be too risky as a confirmation of whose side the Tories are on.
But if the tax break is dressed up as an incentive for social enterprise, tapping into the government fairly well developed narrative on the virtues of mutualism and pointing to existing ex-NHS staff mutuals as an example, but conveniently leaving out the detail of how social enteprises are legally defined nowadays, Osborne, Hunt and the private health lobbyists may well feel its worth a go as part of the pre-election scorched earth strategy.
Or maybe that’s a conspiracy theory too far. I still don’t know.
If I’m right, you heard it here first. If I’m not, then it’s simply the usual omnishambles, ok?
ps. I ‘m thinking of doing a Freedom of Information request on the consultation responses and meetings which fed into the Healthwatch regulations, to try to ascertain to what extent the private health lobbyists were at work. Has anyone else reading this done one, or are they interested in doing so?