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Private profit hitting public health

Mass outsourcing in the ‘fundamentally dysfunctional’ NHS supply chain blamed for disastrous ongoing shortage of PPE

PRIVATISATION is at the centre of the “fundamentally dysfunctional” sourcing of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS trusts, a report by We Own It found yesterday.

The privatisation of the NHS supply chain and its break-up into 11 outsourced contracts has contributed to the “ongoing fiasco” of the failure of the health service to acquire and distribute sufficient PPE to medical staff, according to the report by the public-ownership campaign group.

Instead of being handled by civil servants directly employed by the NHS, privateers such as DHL are in charge of selecting suppliers for the health service, the report revealed.

These suppliers in turn select other private companies to make specific items, such as PPE gowns, for them and then hand them to yet another private logistics company to deliver them to the trusts. 

NHS trusts have been told not to source PPE from local suppliers but to use this centralised system. In doing so, every piece of equipment goes through four separate layers of profit-taking. 

Report co-author Professor David Hall of the University of Greenwich said: “Privatisation of the NHS supply chain has created a complex, fragmented, unresponsive and bureaucratic mess which has left us unprepared and ill equipped to tackle the current crisis. 

“So much responsibility has been outsourced to so many contractors that the Secretary of State literally cannot know what he is doing. 

“It is shocking that DHL, the parcel-delivery subsidiary of Deutsche Post, has been deciding how to spend over £4 billion of the NHS budget.”

Mr Hall said the entire system must be simplified and brought under direct NHS control, with clear lines of accountability. It is work that should be done by civil servants employed by the NHS.

Such workers are responsive to the needs of their fellow workers in the NHS, with a public-service culture of prioritising safety, long-term planning and smart use of skills and resources within the NHS, local communities and the local manufacturing sector, Mr Hall added.

A central problem the report identifies is the “just in time” business model used by logistics contractors such as Unipart in the stocking and distribution of PPE. 

This model creates the risk that sufficient supplies are not available to manage unforeseen events such as the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said: “It is beyond scandalous that so much of the coronavirus response has been handed over to private companies — companies that have failed time and time again to deliver. 

“Whether it is Unipart or Deloitte, Movianto or Clipper Logistics, these companies should be kept well away from our NHS.”

Ms Hobbs said the crisis has revealed that the NHS is made far more vulnerable by privatisation, and the failings — from the distribution of sufficient PPE to the ineffective approach to testing  — lie at the door of private companies. 

“From now on, we need to ensure that our NHS is run in the interest of public health, not private profit,” she said. “In doing so, the government needs to reinstate it as a fully publicly owned and run health service.”

We Own It has launched a campaign demanding that the NHS be put in charge of managing its supply chain, that no new private contracts be granted during the coronavirus crisis, and that the NHS be reinstated as a fully public service.

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