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3 May 2007

Fat cats eye the cream

WHOEVER TAKES over as commercial director at the Department of Health will oversee the purchase of care for NHS patients. This job has been offered to Channing Wheeler, an executive of the US-based private health firm UnitedHealth Group.

They are giving a fat cat the key to the cream! Appointing a private company 'expert' on healthcare purchasing clearly shows New Labour's continued commitment to market-based 'reforms' such as using the private sector to treat NHS patients - at enormous profit to big business.

United Health Europe, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth, recently tried to take over the running of two general practices in Derbyshire and also Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust as steps towards very profitable private involvement in healthcare commissioning. In an all-too-familiar process of two-way travel, Simon Stevens, Blair's former health adviser, is now president of United Health Europe.

Meanwhile, UnitedHealth Group is still being investigated in the US. Its longstanding chief executive resigned after he and other executives repeatedly received stock options granted at or near the lowest point of the share price in each year they received them, guaranteeing a huge yield from these perks.

Wheeler, as chief executive of UnitedHealth subsidiary Uniprise is alleged to have received more than 409,000 options between 1998 and 2002. Favouring Wheeler suggests that suspected fraud and corruption do not alter Blair's determination to sell off the NHS.