Calls for greater disclosure on NHS chiefs’ meetings with private US health insurer

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UnitedHealth used to employ Simon Stevens, above, NHS England’s chief executive. Photograph by Owen Humphreys/PA

Courtesy of Jamie Doward @ The Guardian:

A handful of consultancy firms and a health insurance giant bidding for NHS contracts have been operating a discreet forum at which they receive regular briefings from senior health service managers charged with ushering in the new era of competition among its providers. The revelation has raised fears that the NHS is falling victim to a land grab by a few powerful business interests.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the campaign group Spinwatch shine a light on the workings of an obscure group whose existence and limited membership has alarmed campaigners who want the NHS to remain public.

The Commissioning Support Industry Group (CSIG) is largely unknown to outsiders. Its members are jockeying to win an estimated £1bn of contracts advising the new doctor-led clinical commissioning groups that will be responsible for spending more than two-thirds of the NHS budget on purchasing patient care.

Supporters say it will empower doctors and bring in competition among NHS providers. Those awarded contracts to advise doctors’ groups will be involved in patient care reforms, drug purchasing, negotiating hospital contracts and, crucially, outsourcing services to the private sector.

Critics who warn the reforms will see big consultancies given contracts to advise doctors’ groups say their fears are confirmed after learning more about the CSIG. A series of emails between members of the group and NHS England officials reveal that UnitedHealth, the giant US health insurer that formerly employed NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, chairs the group, provides its secretariat and recently paid for senior health managers to visit its care centres in the US on a five-day fact-finding mission.

Dr Chris Exeter, UH’s lobbyist, who in 2011 worked on non-health matters for Low Associates, a lobbying firm run by Sally Low, wife of former health secretary Andrew Lansley, helps co-ordinate meetings of the CSIG, whose other members are consultancies KPMG, Capita, McKinsey, EY and PWC. Its meetings, which began in May 2013, are unminuted. Continue reading