Q&A: What we thought of NHS England’s Chief, Simon Stevens, on the BBC’s Today Programme this Morning


October 23, 2014 by Protect Our NHS

Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England
Interview on 23rd October, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (08:10hrs)

So many questions were asked by so many people and so few were used and even fewer were answered properly. This blog post just summarises the questions I have seen from colleagues across the country and their responses after the interview was aired. One thing was clear from a comment of Sara Montague’s and that was that the vast majority of the questions e mailed into the programme were about privatisation. I have removed names, but all are members or affiliates of KONP

Question 1:

Does Simon Stevens think that the expensive, private, insurance-based model of healthcare in the United States is really fit for our National Health Service – given that this is where we are heading?

Background Briefing Information
This question is being asked with the following points as key background information:
1. David Cameron’s recent commitment to maintain health spending in line with inflation would not be enough to avoid a funding gap of around £30 billion between now and 2021 because of ‘rising demand’ (a factor likely to be exacerbated by George Osborne’s planned £12 billion cut to the welfare budget). But the size of the budget is not the only issue. See attached and: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/nhs-funding-gap-policy-vacuum-30-billion-jeremy-hunt
2. Privatisation leads to worse services that cost more: the NHS is one of the most efficient health services; the US system is the worst in the developed world. See http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/aug/07/nhs-among-most-efficient-health-services, http://time.com/2888403/u-s-health-care-ranked-worst-in-the-developed-world/
3. There is no evidence that outsourcing to private sector companies is an effective or efficient way of looking after the nation’s health. Indeed the contrary. Consider the recent CQC report on Hinchinbrook Hospital; botched eye operations by Vanguard Healthcare outsourced by Musgrove Park Hospital (Taunton); Serco’s out-of-hours GP care in Cornwall heavily criticised last year for failing to meet national standards, falsifying data and a “bullying culture”; suspension of admissions to two of Care UK’s Suffolk care homes (and Care UK’s handling of an NHS contract handed to them in Doncaster where care workers are striking). Numerous references available on BBC site.
4. Look at the actual process to select bidders for health services for the elderly in Cambridgeshire which has cost £1 million http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-29439924
4. An underutilisation of nearly £8 million taxpayers’ money (from a block contract) at Care UK’s Emerson’s Green Independent Sector Treatment Centre, Bristol. https://protectournhs.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/how-private-firms-bleed-the-nhs-of-money-a-bristol-example/
4. The tax avoidance strategies of many health and social care companies should also be born in mind, the fact that NHS funds are being banked as profit rather than used for patients and that £1.5 billion worth of NHS contracts have gone to companies with links to the Conservative party. See attached and http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/tories-in-15-billion-nhs-sell-off-scandal/

Question 2

Because of changes resultant of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, health provision under the NHS is no longer universal and the postcode lottery is at a high, with CCGs and private and publicly-owned health providers offering varying services and some services being removed, yet offered for a price out-of-pocket. Simon Stevens was an executive at United Health and it now becomes clearer each week that we are moving over to a US-style healthcare system; only this week the Govt are offering payments-per-diagnosis to GPs. Mr Stevens worked within the government with Tim Evans, previously of The Adam Smith Institute. When questioned, Tim Evans stated that he envisaged the future NHS as ‘a kitemark attached to the institutions and activities of a system of purely private providers’.

Was this and is this Mr Steven’s shared view?”

Question 3

Do you agree that the reason many “Trusts” are in deficit is because the tariff has been set too low to cover the cost of providing care?

Can Simon Stevens advise what his position is re the NHS being included in TTIP(EU/US Trade Agreement) and also CETA (Trade Agreement between Canada and EU) in the light of the obvious public backlash against its inclusion and the marketization of the NHS.

Does he feel he can give an unbiased opinion given his own link to the TTIP pro lobby group when he was vice chair of United Health in America? Will the NHS be on a level procurement playing field?

Question 4

What powers do NHS England have to compel the management of privatised GP surgeries to provide verifiable data on the number of permanent and locum GPs present at a particular surgery on a given day. Has NHS England ever exercised such powers?

After the twenty minute interview, responses came in from all sides.

Response 1

An excellent piece of political avoidance. Despite Roy Lilley’s enthusiasm


I felt Stevens avoided all the difficult questions or danced round them. I noted the following in particular.

1. He kept referring to improvements over the last 14-15 years not the massive damage of the last 4 years.

2. He ducked and dived his way through the privatisation issue leaving me with the impression that private companies will continue to win more and more contracts and he also tried to claim that privatisation was not the public’s biggest worry.

3. He ducked the TTIP issue by claiming that he believes in the NHS.

4. He didn’t answer the question on private companies putting in the lowest bids and failing to deliver.

5. He did not actually say that the NHS will continue to be free at the point of need.

6. He ignored the PFI question by saying that the fabric of buildings had been improved.

7. He said there would be no more re-organisation, but it sounded as though the different forms of care will emerge including what is referred to in his document as Multispecialty Community Providers.

Moving on…

Do we e mail Labour and ask for their response on these issues?
Do we include a positives in his responses in our attacks on Conservative candidates standing in the next election? By that I mean more money and protecting the NHS.

Response 2

Yes more wriggle and spin, I was hoping for a Paxo moment. But at least the topics have been given an airing on a premier news outlet.

What came out of it for me on a local level was an idea about putting some energy into efforts to support the GPs on the CCG to be more effective in supporting our aims and into supporting others who may be more supportive to replace those who aren’t. Thus building on the work already under way with them.

Response 3

1. Our question didn’t get asked but at least it was acknowledged by interviewer that the overwhelming majority of questions were on privatisation.

2. SS avoided answering the P word. Why? The answer is in

Just wait to see privatisers getting their grubby hands on this. We should all read this – esp page 30. Though should we be hopeful that Roy Lilley is being an optimist?

3. I think we should try & find quotes from his answers that provide scope for our questions to all PPCs. The programme should be available online soon.

4. Any questions / email to Labour or any other candidates should be accompanied by our Manifesto and be part of our pre-election campaign.

Response 4

What a smooth operator! He has absolutely no difficulty in dancing round the issue of privatisation and he is bright enough to come up with a few ideas that Claire Gerada and Roy Lilley can both be enthusiastic about. I find it extraordinary that he can talk about “more integration” when private companies have complained that contracts requiring joined-up services are “anti-competitive”. No mention of competition whatsoever. The Labour Party should certainly be challenging comments implying that there is a consensus with regard to the NHS.

Response 5

The BBC let Simon Stevens off the hook re PFI. He was asked a good question:

BBC: We’ve had a lot of questions about PFI as well. Sandy Fredericks says “Is there a plan to deal with the burden that PFI deals have placed on Trusts?” This of course after one Trust bought out the PFI contract because they said it was cheaper in the long run.

SS: Yes, well where that makes sense we should clearly do it. The fact is though that we’ve actually had an enormous upgrade in the quality of our hospital buildings over the course of the last 15 years. It used to be the case that so many hospitals around the NHS were often old workhouses or pre-existed the creation of the NHS itself in 1948. But without a doubt, what we do need to do now is not just invest in new hospitals, we need to invest in new Community Clinics, in GP services, in care much closer to home. I.e. completely dodged the question. The BBC left it there and moved on to the postcode lottery. Perhaps they should listen to their own programmes on Lewisham or the Panorama investigation


• One conclusion drawn by many – complain to the BBC
• Question Labour on how all three parties seem to be able to agree with Stevens’ analysis
• As recommended by many, including Mike Campbell and Alex Scott-Samuel – read “Stevens’ privatisation plan”


2 thoughts on “Q&A: What we thought of NHS England’s Chief, Simon Stevens, on the BBC’s Today Programme this Morning

  1. mjamesbarber says:

    can I put this forward for inclusion in our e newsletter as is, is that OK?, Just saying this is a resume of rections around the Interview With Simon Stevens on radio 4 putting listeners questions. On 23/10/2014 16:56, Protect Our NHS wrote: > WordPress.com > protectournhs posted: “Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England Interview on > 23rd October, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (08:10hrs) So many questions > were asked by so many people and so few were used and even fewer were > answered properly. This blog post just summarises the questio” >

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