Thursday, 18 July 2013

Tories sell NHS blood supply to vampire capitalists

On July 18th 2013 another part of the NHS was flogged off to the private sector with barely a whisper from the mainstream press. The lucky recipient of Plasma Resources UK was Bain Capital, a gigantic US based private equity fund that should be familiar to anyone that paid attention to the US presidential election in 2012.

The Republican candidate Mitt Romney was repeatedly slammed for his involvement in Bain Capital, because of their appalling record of hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts (borrowing vast sums in order to buy a company, then lumbering the company itself with the debt used to fund their own buyout), asset stripping, tax-dodging and exportation of American jobs to China.

Plasma Resources UK is responsible for the vital supply of blood plasma to the NHS and Bain Capital have now inserted themselves into the "blood market" and will use these blood donations in order to turn a profit for themselves. I'm fairly sure you don't have to be as left-wing as me to be appalled at the idea of a ruthless US based financial behemoth cashing in on the supply of blood products at the taxpayers' expense.

One of the most concerning things about the sale is that several reputable medical companies and one specialist blood supplies company were overlooked in favour of handing the contract to this unaccountable private equity group with an appalling reputation. Another extremely concerning element of the privatisation is that it was sold for just £90 million upfront (that's only 80% of the PRUK annual turnover). The few press outlets that bothered to report the sale stated £200 or £230 million, however these future payments are conditional on the profitability of the business. It's hardly beyond the realms of imagination to think that a pack of vampire capitalists like Bain Capital might be able to financially engineer huge paper losses, so that they never have to stump up the rest of the cash is it?

There was absolutely nothing in the Tory party manifesto about selling off this vital component of the NHS blood supply. In fact, David Cameron was still lying in May 2011 when he said "Let me be clear – there will be no privatisation, there will be no cherry-picking from private providers" (link to video).

The worst thing about this sale is not that it has happened, nor that Cameron lied. It is known to us all that Tories flog off the national silver and Cameron is a habitual liar. The worst thing is the craven complicity of the mainstream media.

The BBC failed to mention the sale at all, instead focusing on the usual distractionary flim-flam. They didn't bother to hold Cameron or the Tories to account because they didn't even bother to mention the completion of this privatisation at all. The right-wing Telegraph ran a financial piece, which was reasonably balanced, in that it offered very little overt praise and absolutely no criticism of the deal. The only negative coverage of this scandalous privatisation appeared on the websites of the Guardian and the Independent, where David Owen (a former health minister) was quoted as saying:
"It's hard to conceive of a worse outcome for a sale of this particularly sensitive national health asset than a private equity company with none of the safeguards in terms of governance of a publicly quoted company and being answerable to shareholders ... Is there no limit to what and how this coalition government will privatise?"
The story of this reckless privatisation has been completely ignored by TV news, and barely reported in the mainstream press. In my view this media silence must be considered as complicity. The government knows that the majority of the public would have grave concerns about a vital component of the NHS being sold off to a foreign company with a famous reputation as a "job destroyer". The Tories know it's bound to be unpopular, so it is of massive convenience to them that the BBC and the right-wing press have remained so silent on the issue. As far as the Tories are concerned, the fewer people that even know about it the better.

So it's been left up to a couple of low-circulation broadsheets and a few independent bloggers like myself and √Čoin Clarke, to speak out against this reckless fire sale of a key component of the NHS.

*Note this article was amended to remove the mistaken assertion that blood plasma supplies come from charitable donations. All plasma supplies come from US donors, who are paid $20 - $25 per donation. The reason that British blood is not used to create plasma products is the theoretical risk of CJD (human "mad cow disease") contamination. Boycotting the donation of blood in response to this story is not advised. Such actions would only undermine the already hard-pressed UK blood donation service, and would do nothing at all to diminish the profitability of the Bain Capital blood plasma business.


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