#iwaswrong – public sector co-op edition

Here’s a brutal sickburn on the journos, wanktankers, and pols who were taken in by the privatisers of Hinchingbrooke Hospital, who have now done a bunk ahead of the inspectors after the place turned out to be a sinister deathtrap run by Nurse Ratchet:

We heard the staff member say to the patient ‘don’t misbehave, you know what happens when you misbehave

With a little help from the Dnepropretovsk No.1 Nail Factory:

Circle loudly proclaimed its rapid improvement in the key ‘4 hour A&E waiting time’ target as evidence that privatisation had quickly turned Hinchingbrooke around’.

But the CQC discovered the hospital kept patients waiting too long in ambulances before they were allowed into A&E. And after they were seen in A&E, they then waited far too long – up to 12 hours – to be admitted to hospital

Obviously this is all terrible, and I strongly recommend you read the whole of both links and then, uh, occupy everything. But the point I want to make is a different one. Here goes:

Circle likes to present itself as the John Lewis of healthcare, run by its staff. The Sun; the Times; the Mail; even the Financial Times have indulged it, the latter calling Circle “a John Lewis-style partnership.”

It isn’t true. Power rests with the majority shareholder, Jersey-based Circle Holdings, owned by six venture capital and hedge funds (whose founders have, entirely coincidentally, donated fortunes to the Tories).

Yet nearly all of Circle’s victims reported that the key to its success was the empowerment of its staff. “Hinchingbrooke has become a model hospital in which clinical staff make decisions,” wrote columnist Alex Massie. But a survey showed that staff actually “felt bullied and harassed by managers.”

Circle wanted everyone to know about ‘stop the line.’ Moore duly reported that staff were “encouraged” to use it. “Someone stops the line in Hinchingbrooke most days” – although not, apparently, on the days when the Care Quality Commission was there. According to the Commission’s report:

“Staff told us that they had been actively discouraged by managers from calling a ‘stop the line.’ When we found a significant failing the matron was unwilling to call ‘stop the line.’ Even during the discussion of this issue with the CEO, it was the Care Quality Commission who called a ‘stop the line,’ not the Trust.”

TOYOTA PRODUKSHUN, YR DOIN IT RONG. But the person who is wrong here is me. Back in 2007-ish, I thought the idea of public services as co-ops was a great one. So did a lot of other people in the blogosphere, notably Chris Dillow. I was wrong and so are they.

Someone who was right, by the way, was international bankster and Camden glitterato Daniel Davies. We were talking about this outside the Crown & Goose pub in Camden Town one evening that summer, a lovely evening, the sort that would pass for one of those summer evenings before the lights went out across Europe. In a sense, of course, it was, even with the crow eating chips by my beer-stained desert boots and the diesel fumes. It was 2007.

Anyway, he put forward a scenario for its failure of such gruesome horror and dreadful plausibility – call it Project Cthulhu Cupcake – that when we left the pub, we agreed never to disclose any of its contents in case we gave someone the wrong idea. As the deal is still in force and the Tories are still in office, I am not going to say anything more about it except that D^2 was right.

13 Comments on "#iwaswrong – public sector co-op edition"

  1. This heyday-era interview with (now former) Circle chief exec Ali Parsa is just extraordinary. ” I’m not interested in ideology. This is just a fundamentally better way of running our health care. Actually, it’s a better way of running our society … Government should not be in charge of running hospitals.”.
    We’ve all heard ideologies are like accents in that they’re something other people have, but this is surely an extreme case. Parsa was previously at Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs which is obviously the best possible preparation to run a hospital and not at all something that might equip you with an ideology.


    1. The chief executive of Circle Holdings, the only private company to run a NHS hospital, probably has more statistics in his head than those on the flip charts at Hinchingbrooke

      oh, bloody bollocks. why is it that memorising three numbers is still the best way to impress a journalist?


  2. I have my doubts as to whether Hinchinbrooke under Circle was a John Lewis-type organisation, and whether John Lewis is really a co-op (or as good at worker engagement as it is claimed).


  3. It shouldn’t be forgotten that PFI was the original torpedo that started the sinking of Hinchingbrooke.


  4. It doesn’t sound like a co-op to me, it sounds like the typical Stalinist bureacracy that many large companies are. Just because someone claims to be something, doesn’t mean they are. Is there any evidence for it actually being anything like a real coop?

    Of course merely making public services into co-ops or whatever won’t make up for the lack of money and the open wound of the PFI.

    It should of course be clear to everyone by now, except perhaps readers of the Economist and a number of other journalistic products, that Goldman Sachs had its own ideology.


    1. Am I very clever, or are lots of people very stupid; it seems to me clear that merely having the staff own part of a company is worthless for the kind of aims that I think most of us share if it is structred like your normal top down do what your manager says or else type of company?


      1. Most of the reporting (and some of the supposedly serious reports) mix up different concepts: co-operatives, mutual, John Lewis, front-line staff motivation and participation).

        Mutuals are businesses run for the benefit of their members (like Building Societies used to be, or consumer co-operatives). Circle is not a mutual, nor is there any real evidence of any degree of worker control or real staff engagement. And the workers can never out-vote the hedge-fund managers who own the majority of shares.


  5. Not much to add on the markets-good NHS-bad stuff (which made me sad) but I wanted to note that the Crown and Goose seemed to have been demolished last time I was in the neighbourhood. (Which made me sad.)


    1. Ah. Does anyone remember PCW magazine having a columnist called Nick Beard who was IT director or somesuch at the HCI Glasgow hospital? Given the name (Beard as in ‘beard’ vs ‘suit’) I assumed the column was a (rather obscure and unfunny but that’s kind of par for the course) parody of a megalomaniac IT director (what better person to be a megalomaniac IT director than a medical doctor turned IT director?) but I worked out later that the HCI hospital and Nick Beard were both real.


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