Commercial Confidentiality Petition

MAILSHOT NHS CAMPAIGNERS 2015
The NHS is being stripped by corrupt financial practice. We can’t even find out what’s going on because of the commercial confidentiality provisions of the FOIA. Please sign this now to demand genuine freedom of information on what’s done with our money:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_UK_Government_Change_the_Freedom_of_Information_Act/?mXYNljb

Dear NHS Defenders and fellow travellers,

Front-line NHS medical care is rapidly being outsourced to private contractors under the NHS logo.

“More than half” of all cataract operations outsourced to one private provider paid from NHS funds reportedly failed, as against 0.2% in the public-sector NHS:
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/23/family-investigation-cataract-surgery-private-vanguard
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/16/leaked-report-cataract-surgery-revealed
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/14/nhs-eye-operations-private-provider-musgrove

This is a disaster that we found out about because contracted-out cataract surgery rendered patients blind. But what else is going on behind the scenes that may not be so immediately plain?
These outsourcers don’t have to tell us what they are spending our money on. Nor need they disclose where they are cutting corners on NHS standards to improve their financial results. That’s because “their right” to “commercial confidentiality” trumps any rights of NHS patients to accountability or safe, competent medical care.

Commercial interests taking public money for providing public services are protected by an extraordinary exclusion from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). This “Commercial Confidentiality” exemption permits refusal to provide information on public spending paid to private companies. Full transparency might reduce the profits of any commercial interests benefiting from public spending through outsourcing, so companies are allowed to block it. It is scandalous that businesses’ preferences are allowed to trump the requirement for accountability and transparency in outsourcing of public services. It is also contrary to the spirit of the FOI Act.

This is a charter for abuse, a means to conceal secret raids on public money. If companies want public funds, they ought to waive claims to commercial confidentiality and submit to full public scrutiny under Freedom of Information law.
Corporate providers of public services are always on weak ground. Despite corporate disinformation, it will always be cheaper to deliver public services, like for like, through direct employees than by contracting services out to companies that must use part of the available funding to reward their financiers, and another part to manage the contract.

Furthermore, involving the private sector in the NHS requires a market to be run by the public sector. This market is costly: its administration expenses already waste well over £10 billion of NHS funding each year. This could rise to above 30% of total spending, as in the US healthcare industry from which the post-2015 NHS is copied:
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa022033
http://www.bmj.com/content/335/7630/1126
http://www.pnhp.org/news/2007/november/woolhandler-and-himmtein-on-competition-and-public-funds

Running services in-house also improves service quality in terms of patient outcomes, because managing services via commercial contracts reduces everyday oversight and control. We saw how that can go wrong from the widespread outbreaks of MRSA after hospital infection control was outsourced in the 1980s:
http://www.esrc.ac.uk/my-esrc/grants/L211252052/outputs/Read/d731d528-5081-4392-97e3-9165066ebacc
We don’t even know what we’re not being told about public spending: outsourcing companies can have key parts of documents blacked out and may censor the replies to our FOI requests!
This issue is at the heart of the corruption which ails us: corporations and “their rights” dictate the actions of our supposed democratic representatives, and the country is being asset-stripped at high speed.

It is time to shed the spotlight on the fate of our public money as it is passed into private hands. The public might usefully reflect on why we are banned from using Freedom of Information laws in respect of commercial deals that appear, in principle and in practice, to be against the public interest.

.

Please sign the petition now to expose the scandal of the corporate cover-up and Demand Freedom Of Information:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_UK_Government_Change_the_Freedom_of_Information_Act/?mXYNljb

and then please share and mirror, print and distribute it as widely as you can!
HOW TO GET THE WORD OUT
Now we need to mobilise the country behind the petition and force this issue into the forefront of public awareness. We are all being fleeced and we need to stand together, so please make efforts to get it to people who are dissimilar to you as well as similar. Some ways you can help get the word out to all:

 E-mail your contacts with a copy of this text or an equivalent explanation, concluded by a request to sign and to circulate this petition onwards as widely as possible;

 Place the petition wording (as above) on websites wherever you are able and link to it;

 As a campaign tool, consider rewriting the cover note to cover your own difficulties with FOIA inside or outside the NHS and then forward it to activists working on those issues. This will create a family of feeds into the petition from different interest groups who all identify the FOI Act 2000’s “commercial confidentiality” exemption as in contravention of the spirit of the Freedom of Information law.