I’ve spent much of my weekend ploughing through the information I’ve started to receive from the South-West NHS Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium (from here on SWC or ‘the cartel’) member Trusts. The majority of the Trusts have claimed exemptions and refused to reply; some have not yet answered, even though the deadline for them to do so according to the FOI Act passed last week; but a few have responded, sending me a total of about 150 files of emails.
As you can imagine, this information is taking some ploughing through. It’s already pretty clear that there’s a lot more information withheld than disclosed, and I’ve already initiated the appeals process – but there are still some very interesting pieces of information, which I’ll write about as time permits.
One piece of information caught my eye very quickly, though, and merits quick exposure. It’s this: while the ‘Consortium’ has consistently denied being a cartel, SWC recently admitted – albeit obviously without meaning to – that it is a cartel.
In a press release on 22 August 2012, SWC included an FAQ about its aims and activities. Point 17 of the FAQ is shown below:
The FAQ quotes the dictionary definition of a cartel: ‘A cartel is a group of organisations who join together in order to manipulate a market, for example by controlling prices or limiting competition‘.
Ooops. To see why this constitutes an admission rather than a refutation, we need to look at the PID (project initiation document) that the SWC circulated internally to establish the scope of the project – the most recent known version being in May 2012. Fortunately for us, this document was leaked and subsequently published by, among others, the Royal College of Nursing. You can read the full text, should you so wish, here, but the key passage is below.
In a section titled ‘Regional Pay Club’ (the SWC says regional pay is not its aim, by the way!), the PID says:
Note the section ‘Medical locum rate‘, which says, ‘Review medical locum rates across the region to reduce competition‘.
In fact, with all its talk throughout this document and its various statements, FAQs and releases, the cartel – while careful to avoid saying so in so many words – clearly aims to reduce competition within the region on pay for all types of NHS worker, so that staff have little choice but to accept the reduction of their salaries and terms.
But, in at least one area, the SWC slipped up and used plain language – and then inadvertently included itself in the definition of what it clearly is: a cartel.
Since forming a cartel is a criminal act, that’s quite a major ‘slip’. Unfortunately, under our current criminal and conscienceless government, it’s highly improbable that they’re going to be prosecuted for it – it’s far more likely that the directors will receive knighthoods and OBEs for ‘services’ to health.
But at the very least, it’s a public admission of what we all knew to be fact – one which might help sharpen public focus on SWC’s activities, and which a future Labour government ought to pledge to hand over to the Serious Fraud Office for prosecution.