Unhealthy development: How DfID promotes health privatisation

The recent exposure of the scale of the government’s toxic healthcare privatisation plans has reignited the debate on in whose interest should the NHS be run – patients or shareholders.

NHS deficits, caused in part by extortionate Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes, are providing the government with the perfect cover to hand over the most profitable services to private companies.

This ideological agenda to commercialise the NHS completely ignores decades of evidence and the expertise of the healthcare profession, driven instead by the interests of private healthcare companies, lobbyists and investors.

Unfortunately this vision of a health system driven by corporate interests does not stop at national borders.

For the last few years the Department for International Development (DFID) has increasingly been using the aid budget to promote the privatisation of health services in some of the poorest countries in the world.

UNISON’s latest research Unhealthy Development exposes how DfID is implementing its healthcare privatisation agenda through multilateral agencies, consultants, multi agency programmers and its own private sector investment arm – the CDC Group.

In 2015, £4.5bn of the UK’s aid spending was channeled through multilateral agencies. DfID is increasingly reliant on these bodies to implement its pro-privatisation agenda. The International Finance Corporation, for example, has supported the expansion of several global healthcare multinational companies and invested in numerous private hospitals in poorer countries.

Despite their toxic reputation, the government is actively promoting Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as a development model. DFID has even funded a PPP advisory facility run by the International Finance Corporation to encourage governments to hand over their health budgets to multinational healthcare companies.

Bilateral funding is also being used to promote the commodification of healthcare. UNISON’s research sheds some light on how much of DfID’s work is now delivered by private providers and consultants, many of which specialise in the privatisation of public services, PPPs and public management reforms.

In 2015, DfID announced it would invest an additional £750m in the CDC Group, its bilateral development finance institution, which specialises in private-sector funding.

Infamous for its investments in luxury hotels and private schools, the CDC Group has also invested in a number of private health initiatives, particularly private fee paying hospitals, targeting middle and high income groups.

Far from being a panacea, DfID’s prescription for healthcare in the global south is bad medicine. Overpriced PPPs store up massive debts for governments, with next to no risks and vast profits for multinational healthcare companies.

Instead of supporting privatisation which increases poverty and inequality, DFID should be promoting quality public health services as the most efficient and cost effective way for governments to meet the health needs of the whole population.

UNISON is calling on DfID to reassess its health strategy and end its support for private healthcare schemes.

Instead, it should focus on the eradication of poverty, through support for quality public healthcare systems.

This was first posted on the TUC Touchstone blog.