Monday, 23 September 2013

Lay Chair of North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group Should Resign over Conflicts of Interest

On BBC West’s Sunday Politics programme this weekend, Health Correspondent Matthew Hill reported on the damaging conflicts of interest facing two board members of Weston Area Health Authority, John Underwood and Kathy Headdon.  

Mrs Headdon, who is also the Chair of the North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group works as a consultant for Capita Symonds.  Capita Group is one of the private companies which has expressed an interest in bidding to take over the running of Weston General Hospital.

On Sunday’s BBC programme, Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, described the conflict of interest for Mrs Headdon as “a huge problem”.  Mrs Headdon has a key role in the future of Weston General as Chair of the Stakeholder and Quality Assurance Group at Weston Area Health Trust which is supposed to provide an independent perspective to the project board on the bids, both private and NHS, to take over the running of our hospital.

Weston General Hospital Campaign spokesman, Steve Timmins, said: 

We are calling on Mrs Headdon to do the proper thing here and stand down from her posts as it is quite clear that she cannot be independent in her role in stakeholder and quality assurance in the tender process for Weston General Hospital if she is a consultant with one of the potential bidders.  Neither can she easily claim to be objective in one of  her CCG roles as representative for Patient and Public Engagement.

Malcolm Wing, a national advisor on procurement to UNISON, said:

It would clearly undermine public confidence in the impartiality of the procurement process at Weston General Hospital if Kathy Headdon remains as chair of the Board overseeing the tender process.  In fact she should step down from the Board completely.  Her continued presence creates a risk that her professional judgement or actions will be influenced by her employment by Capita.  Any perception that she is not completely independent and impartial will be damaging to the credibility of the decision finally made. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Write to your MP

This letter was sent by one of our co-ordinators to our local MP on the urgent and worrying issues facing our hospital.  We'll publish the response as soon as we have it.

John Penrose MP
House of Commons

cc Weston Mercury

Thank you for your letter of 14th August.

I anticipated that we might have to have a discussion of the meaning of the word franchise. A franchise is a formal agreement for someone to sell a brand’s products or services in a particular place, in exchange for a payment or part of the profits, and/or it is a right granted to an individual or group by a public authority, such as the right to use public property for a business.

Clearly “franchise” refers to a business arrangement. It follows therefore that what could  happen to Weston Hospital is a symptom that health care there (and by precedent, everywhere in the UK) is making a transition from being a service (as in National Health Service), to a business arrangement, where a product is sold to customers by a private health corporation, who pay for the product first via their taxes, and later on, no doubt, by some form of insurance. 

If Weston is franchised out to a private health corporation, it is taking, inescapably and indisputably, a step in the direction of privatisation, even if you would deny or question that what is happening is an explicit and complete example of a privatisation.

So I must ask you – will you accept that franchise is at least a step in the direction of privatization?

The second question that I would put to you is – how can it be more efficient in cash terms for a private contractor to provide a product for the NHS, given
·      The turmoil and administrative work associated with granting the franchise, this present correspondence being an infinitesimally small part of this process?
·      The fact that a private corporation’s primary responsibility is to make sure that their shareholders get a bigger dividend each year?
·      The fact that generous salaries and bonuses must be paid to the directors of the private company?
·      The fact that the company is very likely to pay large fees to tax accountants in order to minimize or annihilate the amount of tax that they will pay in the UK?

Please explain how this can come about.

Third, I would like to put to you again a point I made in my previous letter. Several Cabinet members have financial stakes in private health corporations. Please tell me the exact number of Cabinet Ministers who have such financial interests, their names and their interests, and then tell me whether or not, in your view, their financial interests will influence their decisions regarding the way in which the future of Weston Hospital and the NHS will be handled?

Fourth, do you agree that Kathy Headdon should resign from her post on the North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group on grounds of conflict of interest since she is also a consultant for Capita Symonds Ltd and her husband is on the board of UHB? 

Finally, I would be grateful if you will ensure that Serco is required to withdraw its interest in the Weston franchise on the grounds that Serco is under investigation for fraud.

Many thanks for your time and trouble in answering these five questions.