We’ve heard this week of yet another scandal in the NHS with the release of the Grant Thornton Report into the Maternity Unit at Furness General Hospital and the failings of the Care Quality Commission. I first heard the news of this in the early morning of yesterday on the BBC 24 hour news channel. I was struck by the repeated emphasis the BBC put on the independence of the report. They didn’t mention who had produced the report at that time but simply dubbed it, in large letters on the screen, INDEPENDENT REPORT. So striking was this emphasis that it immediately aroused my suspicions and a quick check on the Guardian website revealed just who had carried out the investigation – the UK arm of an international company called Grant Thornton LLP. So I decided to investigate just who these people were.
On their website ( http://www.grant-thornton.co.uk/ ) they describe themselves as ‘one of the leading organisations of independent assurance, tax and advisory firms’ and strive to help businesses to discover ‘how to do things better, smarter, faster to achieve business growth and maximise wealth’. They ‘have partnered with the Daily Telegraph on an editorial & event series that examines how the most dynamic companies are achieving growth today; how are they capitalising on opportunities, and knocking through the barriers.’ In their latest Transparency Report pubished on their website they say that ‘at 30 June 2012, the firm employed 3,934 people (2011: 3,692), and currently provides client services from 23 locations throughout the United Kingdom. In addition, they have branch offices in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. My interest was definitely piqued by now, so I kept looking…
It didn’t take me long to discover that back in August 2010 Grant Thornton offered the Conservative Party the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash and non-cash donations such as staff secondments and consultancy services.
Not long after taking office the Coalition decided to abolish the Audit Commission and The Observer reported:-
“The government’s decision to close down the Audit Commission, the public spending quango, is likely to benefit a number of companies that have donated large amounts to the Conservative party. Accountancy giants such as KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and Grant Thornton have offered the party the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash and non-cash donations such as staff secondments and consultancy services. A government spokesman said it was “incorrect and malicious” to suggest that the major auditors will benefit from the closure of the quango – saying ministers hoped that “100 different” companies will win contracts. But critics point out all the companies have large public-sector audit departments and would be likely to put forward extremely strong bids. They also make up four out of five companies named on the Audit Commission’s website as already carrying out 30% of its public-sector audits.”
So it looks like the Coalition government dissolved a public body who audited public sector organisations very soon after the election providing more potential business for the big private auditors mentioned above and these guys hand over a significant financial reward – but only to one party in the Coalition. I’m not suggesting they should have shared their largesse equally between the two coalition parties by saying that but pointing out that on top of the significance of rewarding a political party at this time, this also strongly suggests they have some friends in the Conservative party they want to keep onside.
Now we’ve all seen Margaret Hodge recently denouncing publicly and loudly about how KPMG have been allowed to be involved in government policy making on tax avoidance issues when they could soon be advising their wealthy clients how to get round the new regulations. The government obviously didn’t see any conflict of interest here or they wouldn’t have invited KPMG to consult on these matters. But then from a Conservative viewpoint, at least, their interests are definitely not conflicted by this.
I decided this needed further investigation so I did a bit of digging into the main players at Grant Thornton…and what I found was very interesting indeed.
Here we see Scott Barnes CEO of Grant Thornton being interviewed on CNBC TV about the economic opportunities afforded by the London Olympics. He also regularly blogs on a government website called ‘Great Business’
He also writes regularly in the Torygraph and has set up a Grant Thornton ‘microsite’ under the banner of ‘unlocking the growth agenda’. He boasts on the company’s main website that:-
“We have partnered with the Daily Telegraph on an editorial & event series that examines how the most dynamic companies are achieving growth today; how are they capitalising on opportunities, and knocking through the barriers.”
I showed in a previous post how the Telegraph has gone out of its way to allow its editorial agenda to be commandeered by private healthcare vested interests –
Next up is Ed Warner OBE perhaps better known as the head honcho at UK Athletics and thus heavily involved in last year’s London Olympics. Ed is on Grant Thornton’s board but even more interesting is the fact that he’s Chair of Panmure Gordon, the investment bankers where David Cameron’s father made his fortune.
One of the recent clients of Panmure Gordon is the pharmaceutical company based in Oxford,e-Therapeutics, who are currently working on a new cancer drug and a new drug for depression – both potential money spinners.
They recently invested in a new drug discovery centre in Oxford which was officially opened by none other than David Cameron.
Warner is also Chairman of the IPC Athletics Sport Technical Committee and was recently appointed as head of the Organising Committee for the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations Championships (IAAF) World Championships in London by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) when it was still the remit of Jeremy Hunt, and the Mayor of London’s office. Boris Johnson personally vouched for him.
Obviously Ed is well connected with some top Conservatives.
The claim that Grant Thornton are an ‘independent’ disinterested outfit is even more discredited when you take into account that they have a large portfolio of clients in the private healthcare sector. Their website says it all:-
“In the private sector, our clients range from providers of primary and secondary care to private equity houses, care home providers and pharmaceutical and equipment suppliers. We focus on solutions. Our team is made up of highly experienced professionals who have a thorough understanding of the dynamics of the healthcare sector and who recognise that our clients require our service to be delivered on time and on budget. We pride ourselves on listening to our clients, working in an open and flexible manner and developing innovative, bespoke solutions. We were announced ‘Health Investor Accountant of the Year’ in 2009 and 2010 in recognition of our seamless range of services for a variety of high profile assignments across all parts of the healthcare sector. Our commitment to the sector is demonstrated by the pro bono work that our professionals undertake, serving on the boards of Foundation Trusts, Department of Health working parties and mentoring projects for civil servants. In addition, we regularly speak at leading healthcare conferences and contribute to industry journals.”
In 2011 they produced a different kind of report entitled ‘Healthcare: The Finance Flow: Is it moving?’ in which they describe a survey of “200 CEOs and CFOs of UK businesses with turnovers in the £25-250 million range” in order to discover how confident they felt about their business opportunities in the UK health sector. They asked the question,
“Are you planning to undertake a significant transaction in the coming 12 months?”
73% of the 200 big companies surveyed said “yes”.
This is what our government claim is an ‘independent’ organisation. They seem to be rewriting the dictionary.
Now we need to turn our attention to the CQC and in particular to its newly appointed CEO, David Prior because this is where the plot thickens. Prior was appointed as CEO on 28th January this year after the resignation of Jo Williams and in the midst of the current scandal. He earns £63K for 2 to 3 days work a week.
David Prior is a former Conservative MP (Norwich) who was also the Chief Executive of the Conservative Party. He was the government’s ‘preferred candidate’ for the job, a fact that the Guardian said, last December, was ’cause for concern’.Peter Beresford, a professor of social policy at Brunel University wrote in the Guardian:-
“Unfortunately, whatever helpful skills and experience Prior has, for example, in his role as chair of Norfolk and Norwich University hospitals foundation trust, these are likely to be undermined by his close history with the leading party in the coalition. More thought and independence of mind must be shown in making this decision than were evident in the earlier decisions regarding top appointments to the commission.”
What Professor Beresford doesn’t say is that back in 2007, when Prior was also the non-executive chairman of the private healthcare company Chancellor Care which owned Cawston Park, a private mental hospital, he was arrested, along with other board members, on allegations of defrauded the NHS of £2.3 million. He was later cleared of the charge and Chancellor Care was bought out by the Jeesal Group who provide private mental health care.
From the moment he stepped into the job at the CQC Prior has been calling for hospital closures and criticising the state of A&E’s – in other words this head of a so-called politically independent watchdog has been publicly peddling the Tory agenda of privatisation.
According to The Slog blog, an excellent source for a comprehensive timeline of NHS privatisation :-
“Mr Prior is calling for large-scale closures of hospital beds, and a massive diversion of investment monies into community care. Unfortunately, the Lansley-Hunt axis of madness privatised most of the Primary Care sector, which they have handed over to a combo of Dave’s mate Sir Richard Branson and go-getting GP entrepreneurs on £250,000 a year and no after-hours working, thank you very much.”
Prior spoke at a conference hosted by health think tank the King’s Fund this May which was reported on the NHE website. He said too many patients were arriving in hospital as emergencies, when they could have been helped earlier:-
“If we don’t start closing acute beds, the system is going to fall over. Emergency admissions through Accident & Emergency (A&E) are out of control in large parts of the country … That is totally unsustainable”
He claimed that the CQC has identified 45 hospitals with sustained problems over the past five years, which have been set as a priority for inspection. A further 20% of hospitals are “coasting along”,
And he continues to sound even more like the SoS for Health when he says:-
“I think primary care is in bad shape. I think GPs ought to be responsible 24/7 – they should never have opted out from out of hours care.”
Robert Francis QC who was responsible for the report of the inquiry into the Mid Staffs NHS Foundation Trust has implied that in the future the CQC ought to merge with Monitor, who are the economic regulator set up to promote effective and efficient providers of health and care, to promote competition, regulate prices and safeguard the continuity of services. Whilst Monitor is a public body serious questions have been raised by Social Investigations about its CEO, David Bennett.
Social Investigations found an internal memo written by NHSPN director, David Worskett which reveals both he and Monitor chief, David Bennett met during the Health bill ‘pause’ under the auspices of free market think tank, Reform. NHSPN is a consortium of private healthcare providers. The document was an update informing the groups members on the lobbying that had taken place during the so-called ‘listening exercise’. Mr Worksett informs his members how: ‘I had a second lengthy meeting…under the auspices of “Reform”, with only a handful of other (all like-minded) people present, including David Bennett, the chair of Monitor. He has also consistently taken the same line as us throughout.’
David Bennett’s bias was also brought into question previously when a FOI revealed an email from an unnamed McKinsey executive from May 2010, suggesting it was planning to exploit its privileged access to government. It stated: “We have been gathering our thinking on the implications of the new Government programme for the NHS (and) have started to share this with clients. Would you like to meet to discuss it?” The recipient of the email was David Bennett.
David Bennett was a former senior partner at McKinsey & Co, the architects of the £20bn savings that are being justified to sell off large chunks of the NHS.
If the government were so eager to close down the Audit Commission almost as soon as they took over in 2010,paving the way for private auditors to make profit from public money, then its not inconceivable that they would merge the CQC with Monitor. Since both David Prior of the CQC and David Bennett of Monitor seem ‘on message’ with the privatisation agenda, whatever watchdog emerged would be likely to embrace a culture of private healthcare. A culture that put profit before patients.
It seems to me that the Conservative Party is effectively operating as a PR Department for big business simply there to sell their projects to us; and as such the democratic process is dead. These are people who WE employ to represent us, who are paid at least three times the average wage for that privilege.
On the BBC’s ‘advert’ for the Parliament channel David Cameron can be heard shouting self-righteously:-
“I know where I stand, I know where this Party stands, and that’s in the national interest!”
No you don’t David. You and your Party exist entirely to cater to the multinational interest.