A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Is private healthcare no longer taboo?

I was a bit surprised to read an online confession from my Stoke Newington Labour Party comrade Dave Osler that he uses the private sector health check-up he gets as a perk of his job.

Like Dave I am entitled to private health insurance etc. as an employment benefit. However, I had always been under the impression it was not the done thing even for rather moderate Labourites of my ilk to queue jump and get preferential health care over and above what one could expect from the NHS (and ditto on education) so I've always gone through a rigmarole of getting this benefit removed from the stuff my employer gives me - as have other active Labour people I've worked with in the past - which confuses our HR department but leaves me with a clear conscience.

Is this no longer the big taboo that it was?

I feel very uncomfortable about the existence of private sector alternatives to the NHS and state schools, quite apart from not wanting to use them myself or for my family. What do other people think?


Blogger Bob Piper said...

I agree with you, Luke.

(I think I'd better go and lie down).

9:18 am, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never been offered the perk, but I would make the same effort as you to have it removed, and am surprised by Osler.

9:25 am, January 09, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

With you on this one Luke. Good post.

9:28 am, January 09, 2008

Anonymous jdc said...

I've got private health insurance because my mother insists on paying for it. I've yet to use it, but that's largely because I've yet to need it, it's only really the most serious stuff that's covered.

There was serious angst at one of my former employers about a plan to give private health insurance as part of the T&Cs for some staff, it being a public sector employer. Trouble is, people with private insurance do spend less time off sick.

I will, on the other hand, freely admit that I'm a health tourist. I have been to France for surgery several times, and will continue to do so for as long as the NHS refuses to treat me, and I can get for 45 Euros in Lille what I was charged 600 Pounds for in Leeds.

9:33 am, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Florence said...

You don't want you comrade to go and catch MRSA of C.Diff do you??

10:52 am, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

I'm with you. I confused HR too with self-denial over private healthcare, in my case at Reuters. But I never worked out how the 'benefit' of self-denial could be amassed as a political device. Any ideas?

11:56 am, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

I love my NHS, I wouldn't go private unless I was refused treatment.

The NHS just needs more money and less money spent of managers and people to measure targets.

Labour have made a real mess of dental care though. Most dentist won't look at NHS patients now....much worse than even under the tories...sorry but it's true.

My last dental trip cost me £3,600 for three veneers....not availble on the NHS and my dentist can't take on anymore NHS patients.

NHS dentisty is virtually a charity now.

12:02 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Luke Bruce said...

For me it’s still a jaw dropping moment when someone on the left admits to using private healthcare - but more common than I expect. If ever a public service needed the articulate and pushy, who would otherwise abandon it for private care, then it’s the NHS. They can keep reminding the people that run our hosptials and primary care services that it’s not just organised for the interests of those delivering the service. All power to middle class moaners, complaining about the lack of a Saturday surgery I say.

12:26 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

In principle, I agree, but I know peoplw who havew opted for private education and health care, and whilst I can and do disagree with them in principle, I entirely understand why.

For example: I know a man whose very bright daughter has won a scholarship to an excellent private school. The alternative would be a substandard sink comprehensive. I also have a friend who paid for an operation because the pain and difficulty of continuing to work for the ten months it would have taken to get it on the NHS was unacceptable to her.

When I was on the police authority, we did agree to allow the police to use private health care resources to get their staff back to work - it was the best use of public money given the cost of keeping a policeman or woman on long tern sick leave.

The answer has to be to improve public services, but I am reluctant to criticise all those who do find they are faced with this sort of decision.

But I haven't used either myself.

12:30 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger susan press said...

I too am surprised.....with you all the way Luke! Private sector MoTs are a cosmetic most of us can do witout and it's our job to support the NHS, not shore up the private sector.

12:52 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Stuart King said...

I was entitled to private healthcare when with a former employer and refused it, much to my colleagues' bemusement. But given that I suspect we comrades are a small minority of refuseniks is that a comment on the NHS or the fact that folk will always accept "something for nothing"? I suspect (and hope) its the former.

2:12 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Sophi said...

Think of all the tax you will save by refusing the fringe benefit of private healthcare - typically around £100 a year I think: enough for a few health promoting bottles of wine/ meals out/ good contribution of Labour funds. In the scheme that I was encouraged to join at a previous employer in particular I was annoyed at the payments that were available if you used NHS hospitals instead of private hospitals, the implication being that it was compensation for using an inferior service. I for one would much rather be in an NHS hospital than a priavte one in case anything goes wrong with a procedure and you need emergency care.

3:00 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Yeah, this isn't even really a left/right issue within Labour.

In my view, unless what is good enough for the public is good enough for us, we are failing. The public need to trust our stewardship, so we should set an example.

3:16 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger ChrisC said...

I would be more ashamed of being a defence company lobbyist than using prviate healthcare myself!

4:07 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous jdc said...

"In my view, unless what is good enough for the public is good enough for us, we are failing. The public need to trust our stewardship, so we should set an example."

Hmm. "Our stewardship" is pushing it a bit for an ordinary member with no more influence than anyone else, though, isn't it? They might disagree fundamentally with Government Health Policy.

Can we get private insurance when the Tories are next in Government, then? I've got a Lib Dem Council, so is it alright to use a private gym (I don't, as it happens).

4:08 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

I agree with Luke and others too, although I don't approve of attacking individuals on these matters (occasionally people are forced to make very difficult decisions between what they believe in and what might be best for their children, for example - and, while I feel strongly about it, I don't really think individuals should be lambasted for it; although I might add that a works perk doesn't real come under that bracket!) Luke may be surprised to hear that after (many years ago) he denounced me as 'sectarian' for attacking Harriet Harman's school choice at a Labour Students conference! (As I recall, Luke Bruce was there too - this is quite a reunion!)

4:13 pm, January 09, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Just to clarify - I feel as strongly as Luke, Bob, Susan, Tom or anybody else on the matter, just feel the age of denunciations is over!

4:15 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Andy said...

I would draw a distinction between health screening and check ups provided by an employer as part of an employer provided occupational health service and the employer provided perk of private healthcare.

I have no problem with the former (which seems to be what Comrade Osler enjoyed), because work can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems for employees, and employers should look after the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff, particularly if the hours that they ask employees to work makes it harder for employees to access their GP.

5:20 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree - I proudly have in the past opted out of these schemes - much to the irritation of HR teams, but I don't think that you should be joining this as a Party member...

7:42 pm, January 09, 2008

Anonymous grateful NHS user said...

My employer's HR dept couldn't cope with me opting out of our private health screen but anyway I refused to take advantage of it ... until the need arose for specialist counselling and osteopathy, neither of which are effectively covered by NHS.

My partner is a manager in the NHS and one of the perks of that NHS job is a private health plan, ironic or what?

I've been fighting cancer for the past year or so and have nothing but praise for the wonderful staff at the Royal London Hospital. But from them I hear, without exception, nothing but condemnation of this Government for making them jump through hoops to meet meaningless "targets".

Yes, let's all give the NHS our unstinting support - but that doesn't just mean turning our back on private medicine plans - so we don't queue-jump; it also means listening to what the nurses, doctors, porters and orderlies have to say about what's seriously wrong with recent policy changes too.

12:11 am, January 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Queue Jump? What Queues? IF your employer wants to pay for your health care, thats one less patient the NHS has to care for.

No Queues these days thanks to New Labour doubling the NHS budget.

Go get your check up or whatever else on your private insurance!

The NHS is quite safe and those very short queues will be a little shorter without you!

10:21 am, January 10, 2008

Anonymous David Floyd said...

"Queue Jump? What Queues? IF your employer wants to pay for your health care, thats one less patient the NHS has to care for."

No, it encourages employers to purchase private healthcare as a perk for employees, thereby increasing the overall market for it.

Luke's completely right although I agree with Peter that it's hard to see how this position could be made to have much political impact.

11:59 am, January 10, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No, it encourages employers to purchase private healthcare as a perk for employees, thereby increasing the overall market for it."

Well unless you are a communist do you actually care if a certain market increases or decreases? As long as that market is not at the expense of the now non existent nhs waiting lists.

This is a real example to determine if your actually in touch with 'hard working' people who work for 'caring' firms.

At the end of the day its not 1988. We have a first rate health service where you get any treatment you need.

So what if you go into a private centre paid for by insurance, private cash or your employer?

Take the insurance Luke (for you and your family) and use it freely.

11:26 pm, January 10, 2008

Blogger Chris Paul said...

I agree with those saying if this is Occupational Health (which was always outwith NHS) then so what? I think it was Denis Healey was it not, many many years ago, who paid for his mum's hip replacement because (a) he had the money (b) she was in great pain and (c) there was a mixed economy.

If Osler is getting his ingrown toenails done private to save a fortnight's wait or get a private room then renounce him by all means but if he's having a check up for the firm - never an NHS thing - then that's fine. Surely?

12:54 am, January 11, 2008

Blogger Chris Paul said...

PS Realise the Healey thing is a bit out of context but I also agree with Doctor Dunc that there are exceptions and saving your mum two years of pain by paying if you are rich might be one of them.

12:56 am, January 11, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Whilst patients can be treated privately they tend to recieve (expensive) follow up care in the NHS, so I don't believe the NHS is not given more work to do when an individual goes private.

9:33 am, January 11, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes, Ravi, I think thats a fair point. I certainly know, though, that dentists on clinical grounds will not offer to treat people who have had say, private veneers which the dentist has not provided, and that it is made clear that if there are problems they will have to go back to the private practitioner.

I don;t think I would even try to morally justify private provision in policy terms, but I do sympathise with those who feel they have no choice but to opt for it in some circumstances.

12:40 pm, January 11, 2008

Anonymous grateful NHS user said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

Queue Jump? What Queues? IF your employer wants to pay for your health care, thats one less patient the NHS has to care for.

No Queues these days thanks to New Labour doubling the NHS budget.

Go get your check up or whatever else on your private insurance!

The NHS is quite safe and those very short queues will be a little shorter without you!"

Anonymous has obviously never encountered the situation where he or she has been told by the NHS "Sorry, there is a three to six month wait to see a consultant." And yet know that if I went private I could see that consultant in two weeks. The more private patients there are, the longer the queues in the NHS to see those same consultants! Don't believe a word of propaganda about there not being NHS queues. There are. What do you think those NHS managers do all day but (cleverly) fiddle the figures.

1:05 am, January 12, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am guessing BUPA are no longer a client of Weber Shandwick, then? Do you/did you also refuse the portion of your salary that their fees contributed?

9:57 am, January 15, 2008


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