The BBC has very helpfully put together a chart of private sector involvement in the Test and Trace system for Covid-19 and this is reproduced below. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson deliberately refers to these arrangements as being an NHS system and that they were set up in the face of the enormity of the pandemic as it was the best way to respond quickly and effectively. But we at Peoples’ Health Watch know differently. There is a definite, purposeful pattern here which is further confirmed by the scandal that surrounds the provision of Personal Protective Equipment which the National Audit Office itself has deemed as highly unsatisfactory.
No one knows exactly how much has been spent on private companies as part of the Covid 19 response although on investigation by Open Democracy shows that over £40million has been spent on Deloitte’s alone. Deloitte describes itself as ‘a leading global provider of audit and assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax, and related services’ which naturally makes it the obvious choice to run a public health programme, or not. The company’s annual report showed that ‘this year saw revenue growth of 9.1% from £3.95bn in 2019 to £4.31bn. In the first ten months of the financial year.’ This upswing in revenue is likely directly attributable to the increase in public money which is being allocated to the company as a result of the pandemic. Similarly, Serco, a global outsourcing company has a long history of profiteering from the NHS, its contracts associated with ‘cost-cutting, fraud, poor management and inadequate staffing levels, which in at least one contract contributed to the deaths of two children.’ (See here)
What examples like this highlight is the commitment by the UK Government to applying neoliberal capitalist economics to every realm of public life and it is this that the Peoples Health Movement and others are fundamentally concerned about because of the implications for health and health care. At an event supported by ourselves with Medact and Health Poverty Action two years ago, Dave McCoy, Professor of Global Health, argued that neoliberalism is so pervasive that it has become normal: part of how we think and behave and is integral to the way we live now. It values markets and competition, sees bureaucracies as failing, promotes the idea of human beings as selfish and makes them greedy, and thinks of elites as wealth makers rather than wealth destroyers. Its underlying rationale requires profit to be made from public money (privatisation), deregulation and globalisation and is often characterised by cronyism. Crony capitalism, can be defined as a set of economic practices and modes of organisation whereby success depends of the close relationships, often even personal, between business people and political figures. A lack of due process in relation to Government contracts has been a distinctive feature of the management of the Covid-19 crisis (See here).
So, the mismanagement of the pandemic has brought the relationship between neoliberalism and poor health to the fore. Peoples Health Watch will be covering this relationship closely.