The heart of a socialist (Yes really) continues to beat in hope. Photo by Marilyn Tyzack.

Money wasted during the pandemic

The NHS has been starved of funds, but huge sums have been squandered, wasted, and paid out unnecessarily. 

Some of the waste and extravagant spending connected to the pandemic is well known, and, among these scandalous payments, there was the £38.4 billion lost to us on the ‘test and trace’ contract which proved useless.

In addition five billion items of PPE were found to be substandard and unusable at a cost of £2.7 billion. Low stocks at the beginning of the pandemic meant the UK spent an extra £10 billion on PPE at inflated prices.

A Spanish businessman who acted as a go-between to secure protective garments for NHS staff in the pandemic was paid $28 million (£21 million) in UK taxpayer cash.

Where else has the money gone?

Where else do precious funds go, funds that could support the NHS and make up for some of the shortfall in equipment or help towards pay rises for the many low paid health workers?

The Pharmaceutical Industry

A 2018 report by STOPAIDS and Global Justice Now revealed that we provide billions of pounds towards the development of drugs, but then these drugs are unavailable to treat people because they cost too much. So our money is spent on research into medicines which could be prescribed to patients but are not being used.

All over the world, medical services, including of course our National Health Service, find they face prohibitive prices when they wish to purchase medicines. Often these medicines could save lives or certainly prolong them but they are not made available at an affordable price. 

Meanwhile the pharmaceutical industry makes vast profits. Much attention has been paid to the profits made from the Covid vaccines. The People’s Vaccine Alliance estimated in 2021 that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna would make pre-tax profits of $34 billion, which works out as over a thousand dollars a second, $65,000 a minute or $93.5 million a day. These are breathtaking sums. 

However, vast profits made by drug companies predated the pandemic. 

Drug company revenues released in March 2019 for the year 2018 were as follows:

  1. Pfizer Inc. : USD  53.647 Billion
  2. Novartis AG : USD  51.90 Billion
  3. Roche Holding AG : USD 45.5896 Billion
  4. Johnson & Johnson : USD  40.734 Billion
  5. Sanofi S.A : USD 39.288 Billion
  6. Merck & Co., Inc. : USD 37.689 Billion
  7. AbbVie Inc. : USD 32.753 Billion
  8. Amgen : USD 23.7 Billion
  9. GSK : USD 22.968 Billion
  10. Bristol-Myers Squibb : USD 22.600 Billion

Drug companies maintain that the high cost of medicines is the result of the high cost of their research and development processes. However, the breakdown of these costs are not made public, and the use of patents can prove of huge benefit to the industry. Patents give the pharmaceutical companies the exclusive right to market a new drug for 20 years and sometimes longer. There is therefore no competition during these years, and companies can set the price of a drug as high as they choose. 

Years ago drug companies provided enormous perks to doctors for prescribing their products. Some incentives, which might have included luxuries such as taking doctors to conferences in exotic locations, have been stopped, but drug companies still benefit financially from their relationships with GPs. One reason for this is that GPs so often make use of information which drug companies send to them or which their representatives provide, and this can lead to them choosing one company’s drug over another. GPs may not look at independent sources of information or compare prices with other similar drugs. So GPs may prescribe more expensive medicines than they need to, especially if they work in surgeries which dispense their own medicines.

The extent to which drug companies influence GPs is not altogether clear, but there are still financial incentives for GPs to choose certain medicines. Many drug companies also provide free samples of their products which may mean doctors prescribe them as their medicines of choice.

£395 million for the top bosses

It has long been known how much the pharmaceutical industry benefits from the NHS, but there are other ways in which money is used carelessly or wasted, money which could be used to buy better equipment or pay staff fairly. In May 2021 the Daily Mirror revealed some of the NHS bosses were taking home £300,000 a year with bonuses on top, up to nine times the salary of many NHS nurses. Many nurses are forced to take on additional work and some choose to work for an agency, which means they are paid more, the agency gains, and the NHS loses out. The Mirror’s NHS wages investigation demonstrated how the top 10 hospital chief executives are raking in huge sums, while the lowest paid frontline staff have had their wages cut in real terms. The article reveals there are now 2,788 ‘very senior managers’ across all trusts who earn a minimum of £110,000 each, and this costs the taxpayer £395,000,0000 a year.

We would hope with such well paid bosses at the helm that the NHS could be run more efficiently. Internal waste could be reduced, unnecessary expenditure cut and services streamlined without adversely affecting patient care.

Private medicine

Private medicine is another area which takes funding from the NHS. Apart from the fact that the private sector poaches NHS staff who are understandably buckling under the pressures of their long hours and working conditions, the NHS sends patients for operations and diagnostic tests and other private healthcare services because hospitals cannot manage the number of patients waiting for appointments. Figures published in 2019 show that the Department of Health and Social Care gave providers in the private sector, such as Virgin Care and the Priory group, a shocking £9.2 billion. This figure has been rising. In 2014-2015 the sum handed over was £8.1 billion, and in 2017-2018 the sum was £8.77 billion. Of course these companies are in business to make profits, and there is not a suggestion of altruism in their conduct.

PFI

Many trusts are repaying crippling debts, around 6% of their budgets, thanks to the decisions of John Major and Tony Blair. This is PFI. A £13 billion investment in new hospitals will cost the NHS £80 billion by the end of all the contracts in 2050.

Money for Barts Health Trust, when the new Royal London Hospital was built, amounted to £1.2 billion, but it will cost £6.2 billion by the time it is repaid. Repayments of the debt take 7.66% of Barts’ income, £116m a year. The figures were researched by the IPPR (The Institute for Public Policy Research), and Chris Thomas, who was involved in the research, has stated, “Toxic PFI contracts are still driving billions away from patients and into private bank accounts”.

And that sums it up, sums up the disgrace and immorality that so much money which could and should benefit patients, contribute to their care, ease their suffering, save their lives, is ending up making money for the holders of these private accounts.

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