As a child, when my grandmother would say, ‘They’d skin a flea for its hide and fat’, I didn’t know how right she was.
With an ever increasing free supply, in 2011 of 2 million units of blood red cells ( £125 a Unit),3,500 organs,4,000 tissue donors and 2,200 banked cord blood units, successive governments realised our ‘blood and guts’ could be worth a fortune on the global venture capital market .
So in 2008, a three year Strategic Plan created an Organ Donation Taskforce and a National Blood Service Strategy Review.
Then came Andrew Lanley’s NHS Blood and Transplant Commercial Review in 2011
NHS Blood and Transplant is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority was responsible for securing the safe supply of blood to the NHS in England and North Wales providing solid organs, tissues and haematopoietic stem cells to the NHS,and UK-wide responsibility for provision of organs from deceased donors for transplantation.
It also manages the NHS Organ Donor Register, the British Bone Marrow Registry and the NHS Cord Blood Bank
The Review concluded, ‘It is important that NHSBT operates as cost-effectively as possible, as this demonstrates good stewardship of public money and also, by reducing its costs, releases more money to be invested in patient care’.
Not surprisingly, it found,
‘Contracting out certain functions was the only one way of achieving greater cost-effectiveness’;
ie selling them off for profit, to allow any undisclosed buyer, forever control and profit from our freely given ‘blood and guts’ And the NHS has expense of buying the products back.
Other UK blood transfusion services were not included in the Review, but it was noted that there were opportunities for all the UK blood services to achieve efficiency savings through closer collaboration ( presumably with their for profit partners).
The Department of Health was recommended to lead on future work but the decision was left until after the Health and Social Care Bill 2010-11.
Which, largely gave away DOH powers, by placing all funds with NHS England through its local CCGs allowing them to sell off at will
NHSBT already outsourcers most of its support systems
In May 2011 when the NHSBT signed a contract for £150,000 per year to supply a company with 500 litres of surplus plasma, the Bureau of invetigative journalism were unable to obtain the name of the buyer, as NHSBT press officer was unable under their contract‘ but said the purchaser was based in the EU.
A Freedom of Information request was similarly dismissed on commercial confidentiality.
In July 2013 the government sold its 80% share in blood products company, Plasma Resources UK, which supplies the NHS with treatments for haemophilia and immune deficiencies to a US private equity firm Bain Capital for £230m
Former Health Minister Lord Owen said sensitive health assets should not be owned by a firm without shareholders and “answerability”
And Lord Owen, who sought to make the UK self-sufficient in blood supplies as Labour health minister in the 1970s, told BBC the sale was “extraordinary”.
“Remember this was bought by the Labour government in 2002, because of the danger to contamination of blood supplies by CJD – which most people think of as mad cow disease – and it was bought for the NHS and owned by the NHS.
“This is being sold to a private equity capital – this is not a public company with shareholders and public responsibilities and answerability.
Lord Owen, himself, an advisor to private equity firm – Terra Firma – said private,
equity had its uses but added: “What they basically do is fatten it up over a few years, invest in order to sell at very high substantial prices.”
He said that, while the government might make a profit, there were concerns about the level of corporate governance of a sensitive health asset. adding
“Is there no limit to how this government will privatise assets?”
Bain said it intended to change the firm into “a UK-based life sciences champion”.
So 3 years later, Bain sold its share- bought for 230 million, to Chinese company Creat, for £820m.
A lot of profit from our ‘blood and guts’
China’s plasma product supply companies are highly profitable businesses, as China is suffering a shortage of these products.
Creat’s press release said ‘Creat, a leading Chinese investment group, will invest £100 million in BPL to expand production capacity of lifesaving therapies, develop new products and access new markets.
Creat will support management’s ambition to transform BPL into ‘a global life-sciences champion’, serving more customers and patients in a greater number of markets around the world.
Creat being a long-term strategic investor with a track record of growing businesses
Dr Clive Peedell said ” Every sale of this kind increases the dangers the public are exposed to by privatisation. Health care is very big business globally.
But the NHS should not simply be a market competitor, looking for ways to maximise profit. It should be first and foremost a system which ensures that we all look after each other at our time of greatest need.
It is extremely worrying to see the NHS’ blood plasma supplies being written about only in the context of accessing more markets around the world, with no mention of the NHS, only to the Department of Health being a 20% shareholder.
The loss of blood plasma supplies will have dreadful consequences for patients, as will the potential increased risk of contamination. And I am warning that these are the real risks when lucrative global markets are the prime objective, not our own patient care in the NHS.”