HSJ 's take on how the media is covering health

Published: 07/06/2002, Volume II2, No. 5808 Page 18 19

Aside from That Foot, on which the nation's psychological health apparently depended, last week's media frenzy over the World Cup and Queen's jubilee left little room for serious health coverage.

Following the furore over donations to Labour by newspaper proprietor and 'porn baron' Richard Desmond, The Observer is now gunning for another Labour party donor - 'Blair health guru' Dr Chai Patel.

'Crony makes killing from NHS', the paper's business pages screamed.What has incensed The Observer is that it has just cottoned on to the case of Dr Patel, who it wrongly cites as chief executive of Westminster Healthcare which runs the high profile Priory clinics. In fact, Dr Patel is now chief executive of Priory Health Care as HSJ reported last month (news,9 May).The Observer says Dr Patel 'has advised the prime minister's office on private sector involvement' in the NHS, while owning a company 'profiting from NHS work'.And, says the paper, the Priory, which gets half of its business from the NHS and has a turnover of£120m, 'nearly always charges the public sector more than private sector providers', by failing to pass on discounts of up to 25 per cent.

Dr Patel's explanation that 'most of the NHS work is overflow; It is spot purchasing; It is extremely volatile', fails to appease the paper: 'Healthcare professionals have told The Observer that steep rates charged by companies such as Priory Healthcare mean that acute NHS psychiatric treatment has to be severely rationed and that its cost is a huge issue in the health service.'

The paper declares the affair 'will spark new charges of cronyism and 'cash for favours'', revealing Dr Patel 'donated more than£5,000 to Labour in 1999'.Admittedly peanuts compared to Mr Desmond's£100,000, but expect more of these stories as the government continues to open up the NHS to private companies.

From in-crowd to out-crowd, and a piece in The Guardian on Tuesday by former health secretary Frank Dobson railing against the government's latest big idea - foundation hospitals.As a result, managers 'will increasingly be splashing out fees on management consultants, lawyers, accountants, valuers - the uncaring professions - to help promote their ambitions', he warns.

Seen or heard anything that mediawatch should cover? e-mail alastair. mclellan@emap. com