Thursday, 14 April 2016

Privatised Social Service Fails

From the Guardian, we hear of systemic failures with the privatisation of the NHS ambulance service:
Hundreds of patients including people with cancer and kidney failure have missed important appointments for treatment because ambulances did not arrive to take them to hospital, after privatisation of NHS non-urgent transport services in Sussex this month.
Some elderly patients have had to wait more than five hours for ambulances and been stuck at hospital for long periods after their appointments because the transport service, now run by the private firm Coperforma, has proved so unreliable.
Patients, relatives, NHS bodies and local MPs have severely criticised the service’s performance, and a trade union representing ambulance crews said it was an “absolute shambles”. The NHS organisations that awarded the four-year, £63.5m contract have now launched an investigation.
I'm shocked, shocked I tell you to hear that privatising an important public service has lead to a drop in quality.  It's never happened before, except for all those times that it has.

My initial thought on seeing this story was to make a sarcastic comment on the famous definition of insanity; repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.  But then I remembered that privatisation has nothing to do with trying to improve services.  It's about cutting costs (and, when Brown was chancellor, keeping what costs were left off the books entirely).  It's about deferring responsibility; if this had happened under a government-run service, the blame would have fallen on the local government.  As it is, the blame mostly falls on the company behind things.  And to some extent its about the ideological idea that the private sector is always better, despite the fact that the usual free market arguments are poor fits to social services for a number of reasons.

Mostly, though, it's about the fact that government contracts are lucrative business.  Bad press like this doesn't matter so much, when the companies vying for contracts are busy schmoozing the relevant politicians.  Like many companies, they spend a lot advertising; in this case selling themselves and their products not to the general public, but to a small number of people holding the public's purse strings.  Companies get healthy long-term contracts; politicians get wined, dined and, sometimes, hired by these same companies for their "expertise", once they leave office; it's win-win!

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