Every encounter with the health service seems to bring on the one hand an example of the dedication and sympathy of individual health workers and on the other yet another instance of the way in which the NHS is being cannibalised by private companies.
Last week brought another example, perhaps trivial but nevertheless indicative. I had to pick up a new hearing aid from the private company with whom the part of the NHS to which my GP belongs has taken out a contract to supply audiology services.
My first appointment with these people was, I have to say, arranged with commendable speed – presumably to make sure I got onto their books and was not treated by some remnant of the publicly provided service.
My hearing test took place in a trailer parked in the car park of a GP practice not far from where I live and was conducted with great efficiency. My second appointment, to be fitted with the hearing aid, was rather less efficient. The wait was longer and I was the first ever patient of the guy who did the fitting, who had a lot of trouble with the software and kept explaining that he had not been trained on this model before popping out to consult a more experienced colleague. The only one they had in stock was the wrong colour but they said this could be changed at a later date.
That later date, six months later, is now. Since the original fitting the service has gone downhill more. The only way one can arrange to get new batteries or book another appointment is via a call centre staffed by people with Scots accents (in Glasgow?) who seem to find any kind of communication an unwelcome chore. For three days the whole system was down and you couldn’t make any appointments at all. when i finally got through to someone the conversation went like this:
Call centre operator: ‘I’m afraid we don’t have any appointments between now and July 6th at your local centre’
me: ‘What about after July 6th?’
CCO: ‘The system only goes up to then’
me: ‘Can someone call me back when the later dates are available?’
CCO: ‘We don’t offer that service’.
me: ‘Can you offer me an appointment anywhere else?’
CCO: ‘We can only offer you one in Haringey’
me: ‘Isn’t there anywhere nearer?’
CCO: ‘That’s the only one near you’.
me: ‘Actually it isn’t near me at all. Can you tell me where else I might be seen?’
CCO (getting very grumpy) starts to read out a list of centres in London, one of which is in a part of Islington near the Hackney border, very easy to get to.
me: ‘That’s MUCH nearer to where I live than Haringey. Why did you tell me that was the only one near me? Don’t you have a map you can check these things on?’
CCO: ‘We don’t offer that service’.
Anyway, I got my appointment and went to pick up my new hearing aid, from the same company, this time from an office based inside a GP practice. There I found that, not content with creaming off routine NHS work for their own profit, they had actually put up a sign in the waiting area (shown above in a blurred photo taken on my iphone) advertising the superior range of aids they can offer to private patients. So they even get a chance to advertise freely to a captive target audience at the taxpayer’s expense!
Here’s my article from the current Socialist Register about the commodification of public services http://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/15646
And a great piece by Stuart Weir comparing privatisation with the enclosure movement: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/stuart-weir/britain-is-not-just-%E2%80%98undergoing-privatisation%E2%80%99-this-is-modern-enclosure-movem
And a recent article by Colin Leys, the tireless commentator who has exposed so much about what is rotten about NHS privatisation, about another very nasty aspect of the interpenetration of the public and the private in contemporary Britain: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/colin-leys/dissolution-of-mandarins-sell-off-of-british-state