Private hospitals “poor value for money” says U.K. expert

Sharing his country’s experience with privately financed and owned hospitals, a British medical expert says that private-public partnerships (P3s) are “poor value for money” that compromises the quality of care.

Speaking before a big crowd at a May 29 public meeting organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Burnaby, Dr. Matthew Dunnigan warned that the privatization of public services is the number one issue in the U.K. that may seal the electoral fate of right-wing Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The success of private corporations in winning government approval of P3 hospitals relies not on sound research, but on “spin, propaganda and distortion of the facts,” said Dunnigan, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Glasgow.

He recounted research that shows P3 hospitals have resulted in shocking bed reductions of up to 35 per cent accompanied by equally high cuts in nursing staff. Other clinical impacts include a frightening decrease in length of stay as patients are rushed out the door to relieve the waiting list for the fewer beds at private facilities.

Another element in the U.K. P3 model is the privatization of support services to the consortiums that own the private hospitals. Describing it as “cheap, nasty privatization to the lowest bidder,” Dunnigan says that reduced standards in housekeeping have had an adverse effect on infection levels.

He was also critical of government reliance on consultants like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). “They are not independent” in the roles they play, he said. (PWC is at the centre of the Abbotsford private hospital controversy and produced a so-called independent study for the Campbell government that promotes a private option.)

Administratively, Dunnigan said inefficiency is created when the owners of the building and the public sector delivering clinical services have to jointly manage a hospital. Simple problems like fixing structural problems in the building are subject to lengthy delays. And the 30-year contracts handed out to private consortiums who own the facility is unduly rigid, Dunnigan says, reducing a hospital’s capacity to respond to change.

Meanwhile, on May 31, HEU, BCGEU and CUPE B.C. organized a protest rally in downtown Vancouver outside the hotel where 200 corporate privateers attended a pro-P3 conference organized with the support of the Chretien and Campbell governments.

Later on March 31, Dr. Dunnigan and forensic accountant Ron Parks were part of a B.C. Nurses Union-sponsored forum in Abbotsford. Hired by HEU to review the government study promoting the P3 hospital option, the highly respected Parks issued a critical report on the Campbell Liberal’s plans.

Click here for a copy of Parks’ analysis. These documents are in .pdf format and require Adobe Acrobat reader which may be dowloaded free from Adobe.com