In order to give patients a choice when it comes to NHS healthcare, the ConDems have decided to subcontract the job of providing said healthcare. In Surrey, patients now have the choice of Virgin Care or…well, that’s it. So where’s the choice patients were promised?
Well it could be a simple one. You can accept Virgin Care or no fucking care! You could have the choice of moving across the county border and choosing Serco! (Dr Éoin Clarke of the green benches has made a map of the sell off’s so far) Maybe the choice is Virgin Care or you can pay for private care. Or perhaps the choice they said the public would get, was not WHO provides that care, but the range of choices you will get during your care. This is where it will start to cost Joe Public when they are in need of treatment. In order to fully explain, I’ll have to tell you a story.
About 5-ish years ago I decided I could save a bit of money and take advantage of a 0% balance transfer for my credit card. After a quick look around comparison sites, I settled for the Virgin Creditcard. 0% for 18months and only a 2% transfer fee. Sold! All done online in just a few minutes. That was my first mistake, as like most other times we all tick that Terms & Conditions box without reading it. My second mistake was setting up paperless billing. “Go Green!” it called to me, and since that’s the type of person I am, why not. As soon as the balance was transferred, I paid my first chunk of cash to get the balance paid off, £200.
The first email to let me know my statement was available to view online arrived two days after the minimum monthly payment was due, and I opened the online statement to find I had been charged £25 for missing the due date. A call to a very nice chap at Virgin Credit Card helpdesk and it was worked out that I had sent the £200 too early and it hadn’t counted towards my minimum monthly payment. Oh well, the nice man decided to waive the penalty, and deleted the £25 charge from my account. “Thanks very much! Awfully nice and very understanding of you.”
I sang his praises a tad too soon. I spent the next half hour fighting off his offers to sell me 30 different kinds of insurance cover for my card, my home, my car, my teeth, my keys, my identity, my computer and my life! Nay, nay and thrice nay to all of that shit! Not that he accepted no as an answer, he really did persist, but I eventually convinced him he was wasting his time.
He also failed to mention that because I had missed a minimum monthly payment, the 18month interest free period was now null, cancelled, defunct…it was no more. Now I had a lovely 25% interest rate. (although I worked out, over a year it was close to 50%) It’s 10% up on my last credit card, and there’s no way out of it. The 2nd person I had to speak to wasn’t as nice as the first guy at taking away bad charges cos I’d jumped the gun on the minimum monthly payment. But they were just as persistent at trying to sell me all sorts of shitty insurance! There really is no polite way to tell someone to go fuck themselves.
After many months of getting bored going through all the security procedures to view my online statement, I made another mistake. I stopped checking them. For about 6 months or so, since I hadn’t used the card and I could see the minimum payment being taken by direct debit every month from my bank account, why bother looking at it. Well, yes, there is that. Sure as shit when I looked and realized that for the last 6months I’ve been getting random $40 charges to my account, once a month, every month. I get on the phone to the Virgin Credit Card Hotline and tell them there has been fraudulent charges to my card. “No problem, we’ll get that stopped.” Tappity tap on a keyboard. “Would you be interested in buying Identity Theft Protection…?” I believe my response was along the lines of ‘are you fucking kidding me?’. I’ve just found out I’m paying about200 quid to some iworld support or whatever, and they want me to spend £79.99 on shit insurance that never covers you when you need it? (been stung by insurance refusals to pay before, hence my hatred of insurance) Once more I try very politely to tell them to go fuck themselves.
Next month comes, and there’s a new charge. I had been awaiting a new credit card, as the lass I had spoken to had said she had stopped my current card. I call them again and get the same song and dance. “Yeah we’ll get that stopped…yeah you’ll get a new card…can I interest you in…”
I’m fairly sure the US Geological Survey picked up my response.
I did not give it another month. I did a fair bit of research in advance, armed myself with my rights and I decided to call again after a week when I hadn’t seen the new card, and once more, I was told that they’d stop my card. I of course explained that I’d been promised this twice already and this wasn’t good enough. I also explained that I expected a full refund for all charges, starting 4months before the date I first reported the dodgy charges, which I’m entitled to by the FSA. It was then that I found out, Virgin didn’t actually look after the credit card account. All they did was sell insurance. I’d have to get transferred to another department, or in actual fact, I was transferred to MBNA, who were basically the underwriters of the account! KABOOM!
It took another two months, several angry letters and a couple of even angrier phone calls, but I eventually got a full refund of all fraudulent charges and the interest accrued.
And that to me will be the kind of choices you will get at a Virgin Care hospital. You’ll be offered stuff you are entitled to BY LAW, but you’ll be offered the choice to pay for it. Or more to the point, if you don’t know your rights, you could be swindled into paying for it.
Basic stuff can always be “upgraded”, for example, the choice of meal. You can pay a small sum for a traditional home cooked meal made in the kitchens to order, or the NHS option of a meal made in a factory 150 miles away and reheated for a minute in a microwave half an hour before it gets served!
They could follow the Ryanair model and simply charge you for extras. £5 per night for an extra pillow and blanket. £1 to gain entry to the toilet.
Visitors will be charged entry by the hour. Chairs to sit down will be extra.
How about paying £79.99 for Virgin Oxygen! Far superior to that iffy NHS stuff.
I foresee episodes of Casualty will have to change somewhat in future. As they rush the patients into A&E, as well as all the usual ‘Can you tell me your name?‘ guff, they’ll also get asked if they’d like regular O neg, or O neg squeezed from the thighs of a Romany virgin, just £2000 per pint!
Before the NHS privatisation bill was passed, people were (and as far as I’m aware still are) getting the choice of watching adverts and a message from Andrew *TOSSER* Lansley, on a TV placed right in your field of vision, all-day-long, or the choice to pay £5 to get the bloody thing turned off.
It’s not really a choice is it? Would you like to be abused, or would you like to pay to be abused? The Health and Social Care Bill was barely out of the Queens hands after she signed it when Virgin Care announced they had been awarded the contract for Surrey. How fucking quick does it take to write a contract these days? Was this one jotted out on the back of a fag packet to save time? I doubt it. The citizens of Surrey didn’t get much of a consultation period on that one. They probably stuck their head out the window, mumbled something along the lines of “Any objections? No?“, then got on with signing the £500million deal. The choice could be similar to the choice we get in who runs our country. Maybe in 4 or 5 years if we are unhappy with the service Virgin Care provides we can vote them out? Or maybe we’ll find that the contract has been signed and it’s a 30 year deal. As most of these contracts usually are.
If my experience with Virgin Credit Cards is anything to go by, healthcare in England will soon have the greatest of choice. You can either pay through the nose, or you can take it up the arse!