“Is there no limit to what and how this coalition government will privatise?” exclaimed former UK Health Minister.
July 19, 2013
Mitt Romney’s private equity company Bain Capital is in the news again, this time for buying the majority of United Kingdom’s entire blood plasma supply.
The Department of Health has sold the state-owned Plasma Reources UK (PRUK) to Bain Capital for £230 million. According to The Independent, the government “overlooked” perhaps better-qualified purchasers like healthcare/pharma firms and “at least one blood plasma specialist” before making the sale, raising calls for concern.
While the deal is said to safeguard British jobs (more than 1,200 people at the two plasma supplier and collector companies in question), it is raising concerns about the seemingly limitless opportunities for privatization. PRUK had been dedicated to using low contamination risk populations, and critics fear the privatization of blood plasma could prompt profit-incentivized shortcuts and a contamination of blood supply.
PURK, the UK plasma supplier, makes about $110Em in sales annually and provides the majority of the National Health Service hospital plasma supply. Employees at DCI Biologicals in the US collect plasma from American donors, and send it to the Bio Products Laboratory (BPL) in England. BPL separates the samples into clotting factors — blood proteins — and sends them back to NHS hospitals for the treatment of “immune deficiencies, neurological diseases, and haemophilia,” The Independent said.
Former Health Minister Lord Owen wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year and urged him to stop the sale.
“The world plasma supply line has been in the past contaminated and I fear it will almost certainly continue to be contaminated,” he wrote.
Now, Owens told The Independent, “It’s hard to conceive of a worse outcome for a sale of this particularly sensitive national health asset than a private equity company with none of the safeguards in terms of governance of a publicly quoted company and being answerable to shareholders.”
He continued. “Bain Capital should not have been chosen for this sale. Is there no limit to what and how this coalition government will privatise?” he said.
Lucy Reynolds from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also urged against the sale of PRUK earlier this year, and she said the deal undervalued the company. “Plasma supplies have a long record of being operated on a not-for-profit basis, using voluntary donors where all the necessary checks take place. The difference with a commercial firm is that they will want to have as many donors as possible and be looking to secure large profits first and foremost.”
“This amounts to the government abandoning UK blood products users to the tender mercies of the cheapest supplier,” she said.
Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.