While Matt Hancock claims there will be no privatisation on his watch, his own Department for Health and Social Care is proceeding to further privatise even the process of patient and public involvement.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is merging its INVOLVE function with its Dissemination Centre, and the contract to run the new centre from April 2020 was put out to tender by the DHSC, and won by LGC, a once publicly owned body that was privatised by John Major’s government and has since been bought up by a US-based private equity giant KKR.
LGC is still keen to trace its origins back to 1842 when the Laboratory of the Board of Excise was founded in the City of London to regulate the adulteration of tobacco which was prohibited under the Pure Tobacco Act.
This developed into a wider-ranging Laboratory of the Government Chemist, but was eventually flogged off in 1996 and renamed LGC, and was subsequently bought up by KKR, which describes itself as a global investment firm ‘with an industrial vision’.
The Dissemination Centre had already been partially privatised, run in partnership between Southampton University’s Wessex Institute and another private outfit, Bazian, which was taken over in 2013 by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The INVOLVE function was set up to promote patient and public involvement (PPI) in NIHR-funded research, and has also been hosted by the Wessex Institute, but until now without a private partner.
While the decision now to hand both operations over to LGC on a five year contract offers the possibility of some juicy data for LGC and its private equity owners, it does raise the question of what possible benefit the DHSC might argue this latest privatisation could deliver to the public.