NHS privatisation: Questions to full Council meetings, autumn 2020 and winter 2020-21

Throughout autumn and winter 2020/21 and prompted by the recent growth in “outsourcing” / aka NHS privatisation,  members of KONPNE are putting formal questions to the SEVEN local North East Councils about privatisation in their area. 
The “Cumbria and North East Integrated Care System” (ICS) comprises a collaboration between local Councils and local NHS “Clinical Commissioning Groups” (CCGs). This ICS determines the future of our health services in the North East.  Whilst CCGs are taking the lead, on paper it is our elected Councillors who are also jointly responsible for this plan. HOWEVER, as CCGs are under instruction from the Government and NHS England, all North East Councillors (especially those sitting on “Health and Wellbeing Boards” and “Health Scrutiny Committees”) provide the only democratic accountability within the local ICS.
We are aware of the ongoing support of individual Councillors for a publicly funded and publicly provided NHS, and we ask that Councillors remain on guard against inadvertently colluding with the political decision to dismantle our NHS – hence our questions.


Gateshead Council

Tony Dowling, KONPNE member and Gateshead resident, put the following question to the full council meeting on Thursday 17th September: Question to Gateshead Council Sept 2020
Cllr Lynn Caffreys (Labour, Councillor for Chopwell and Rowlands Gill, Chair of Health and Wellbeing Board) response is here: Question Response By Councillor Caffrey, Gateshead
The link to Gateshead Council webpage for the meeting, incl agenda and KONPNE question, is here: http://democracy.gateshead.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=140&MId=2678&Ver=4
KONPNE: Excellent to see that Gateshead Councillors emphasise the ‘primacy of place’ approach – recognising that the Integrated Care System as a whole is secondary to the specific needs of Gateshead as a specific ‘place’. We remain concerned that local democracy and decision-making is under attack with decisions being made at a regional ICS level, and this commitment from Gateshead Council goes at least some way to help to ensure that services for Gateshead residents are determined locally. It is crucial that local voices are heard, and that local democracy is retained and acted on. The challenge now for Gateshead Councillors is to keep this commitment in place, in the context of merging CCGs, the ICS and macro-healthsystems. 
We remain very concerned about the privatisation taking place in Primary Care in a neighbouring CCG area and are interested to learn that, in Gateshead, the local strategy is “to introduce the option for patients to consult with GPs via video if they choose to, but that video consultation will be with a local practice and a local practitioner…. We have no plans to commission any outside services”.  North Tyneside CCG – take note (see here).


Sunderland Council

Sunderland KONP’s Laura Murrell and Dr Pam Wortley forwarded the following question and information sheet. The question (but not the information sheet) was read out by the Mayor at the full Council meeting on 23rd September 2020, and Cllr Geoff Walker (Labour, Councillor for Shiney Row, Healthy City portfolio) responded on behalf of the Council.   
Question to Sunderland City Council from KONP Sunderland and District
Sunderland Council additional information 23 09 2020
A transcript of Councillor Geoff Walkers response is here: Answer to KONP question from Sunderland City Council 23 09 2020
KONPNE: The paper “Resetting the Health and Social Care System” sounds interesting, and we are sure that our colleagues at KONP Sunderland and District will be very interested in reading Cllr Walkers’ paper.  Of course, we welcome and share the commitment to “an agenda of collaboration and co-operation aimed at avoiding wealth extraction by the private sector”.


Northumberland County Council

KONPNE member and Northumberland resident Richard Spedding submitted the following question to Northumberland County Council, for the Council meeting on 4th November 2020. Whilst the contextual information was not read out at the meeting, the two questions were read out in full, and Cllr Veronica Jones (Conservative, Councillor for Ponteland West, Cabinet member for Adult Wellbeing, and Health and Wellbeing Board member) provided responses.  
Contextual info and question to Northumberland County Council November 2020
Question, and response from Cllr Jones – Northumberland County Council 4.11.20
KONPNE: Needless to say, we will be communicating with Cllr Jones (cc rest of the Northumberland Council) regarding this inadequate response. There appear to exist inconsistencies between Cllr Jones overview of NHS funding and the Channel Four fact check (click here regarding the Tory claims of investing £33.9 billion) and we also need to remind Cllr Jones about the REAL direction of travel re Integrated Care Systems (very sadly, ICSs WILL MOST CERTAINLY shift the balance between public and private services – not this year, but fast forward to the time of large-scale takeovers by multinational corporations, made possible through the creation of this very same ICS system). We suggest that Cllr Jones reads our KONPNE briefing paper We Need To Be Worried about the NHS Long Term Plan, Integrated Care Systems and Primary Care Networks
Once we write to Cllr Jones, we will copy our email here.


Newcastle City Council

The elusive Council number four is, indeed, Newcastle and our question was finally put to the Council on Wednesday 6th January 2021.
Our original question, submitted in early November 2020, is here: Question to Newcastle City Council November 2020  This original question was declined by Council officials as they felt it to be similar to a question asked by us at the Newcastle full Council meeting in March 2020.  We disagreed, but sent in a revised version. This was also declined, as officers were unhappy with our mention of specific private businesses and corporations. We disagreed with this stance (as always, everything we submitted was accurate and truthful) but, for expediency, sent in a revision of the revision. This was “accepted”. 
Many thanks to KONPNE member David MacAllister for representing KONPNE and putting our question about NHS privatisation to the full Council meeting this evening, 6th January 2021.
Our question is here
Councillor Karen Kilgour, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care responded on behalf of the Council, stating that the Councils Labour administration is “fundamentally opposed to the privatisation of the NHS” and the chumocracy evidenced by the Governments award of health care contracts to the private sector. Cllr Kilgour went on to speak of the “Collaborative Newcastle”, a joint initiative  between four health and social care organisations in the city, launched in September 2020, and describing it as a “unique opportunity”. She concluded by confirming that the Council “opposes privatisation wherever possible”.
Surprisingly, our supplementary question here was not responded to by Cllr Kilgour.
KONPNE: We welcome Cllr Kilgour’s commitment to our NHS, and we will be pleased to study the transcript of Cllr Kilgours response in some detail when this is available. We will certainly be getting back to the Council regarding a full response to our supplementary question; Councillors are involved in decision-making regarding health provision in the city, and it is crucial that Councillors have ongoing up-to-date information about outsourcing patterns and trends – it is crucial that they see the full picture.


North Tyneside Council

KONPNE member John Whalley put the following question to the full meeting of North Tyneside Council, at the full Council meeting on 26th November 2020. The question focused on North Tyneside CCG commissioning the private firm “Livi” to provide virtual GP appointments on a one year pilot basis.
Question to NT Council – Nov 2020 revised
Councillor Margaret Hall responded on behalf of the Council, and her response is recorded here, at part 9: https://democracy.northtyneside.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=2144
The video of the meeting is here (go to 38:40 mins): https://youtu.be/f5mh4pcZ9VE
In response to the question, Councillor Hall made the North Tyneside Council position very clear in stating that “North Tyneside Council is 100% opposed to any privatisation of the NHS and as long as Labour remain in control of North Tyneside Council it shall remain opposed to any privatisation of our precious NHS”.
Regarding Livi, Councillor Hall went on to say that “The evaluation of the pilot will be under the full scrutiny of all committee members. We agree that North Tyneside CCG should not be putting healthcare into the hands of profit-making companies. They also know that new and changed services in our local NHS always get the close attention of North Tyneside Council. This has been demonstrated by the Adult Social Care, Health and Wellbeing Sub Committee calling in the CCG’s Livi pilot for scrutiny. We’ve seen this year exploitation of the NHS by private businesses for huge profits by friends of government. A great example of how not to trust commercial arrangements”.
KONPNE: Councillor Hall has made the position of North Tyneside Council very clear regarding Livi. The Livi contract will be up for evaluation in the early part of 2021, representatives of North Tyneside Council are on the evaluation group, and we expect these people to stand up and be counted regarding this important matter. 


South Tyneside Council

Many thanks to Maddy Nettleship (“Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign” and “KONPNE”), who put a question about NHS privatisation to South Tyneside Councillors at the Full Council Meeting on 25th February 2021. 
The question was provided in full in the Councils document pack for the meeting, and was read out in full by the Chair; a copy of the question is here, and the meeting can be viewed online here (go to 1:20).  In South Tyneside, the protocol is not to respond to public questions at the meeting and, instead, for the Council to provide a written response within seven days, and for the question and response to be recorded in the Council minutes.
The written response from Cllr Anne Hetherington, South Tyneside Council is here.
On a related note, at the beginning of the Council meeting, Councillors need to formally record any declarations of interest in any of the agenda items, and it is encouraging to note that nine members of South Tyneside Council recorded their interest / support of the “Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign”. Their ongoing support is much appreciated and is noted by South Tyneside constituents.
KONPNE: Thank you to the Council for outlining their statutory duties – it would have been helpful for more specific feedback and examples about how this has related to practice in South Tyneside; working alongside the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign, this is something we will get more information on in the future. As regards the ICS, we support the Councils’ stance that “Local challenge and scrutiny within the ICS decision making process will be important for us and being part of the ICS partnership arrangements will be a priority for South Tyneside Council to ensure our residents needs are fully represented. We recognise this is still in development but we fully understand the importance of ensuring we are part of this from the outset.” KONPNE agrees that it is CRUCIAL that any top-down approach is challenged and that local democracy is retained in any future structure.


Durham County Council

Many thanks to Dr Lawrence Welch, KONPNE member and Durham resident, for putting our question to Durham County Council at the full Council meeting on 24th March 2021. It was a requirement of the Council proceedings that our question here was shortened. The Council response from Cllr Lucy Hovvels is here.
KONPNE: Whilst we feel that the reply from the Council is disappointingly short and lacking in specific detail, we note that a key part of this brief statement is the last sentence, where Cllr Hovvels (Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Adult and Health Services) confirms the need “to keep as much decision making as possible at a local place level so that we can promote the founding values of the NHS in any future commissioning”.
It is encouraging to hear this, and we totally support Durham Councillors in carrying this out in practice. We will certainly be returning to this in the future….
And, in addition to considering activity at a local level, we also we expect our Councillors to challenge developments at the macro-level regarding the White Paper proposals concerning the Integrated Care System. More information is here.

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