In a special edition of the Friday Surgery we take a critical look at a right-wing organisation: the Institute of Economic Affairs. During this winter's NHS crisis the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, tabloids, and broadsheets have all featured comment from the IEA, describing them as an 'independent think tank'. But just how independent are they?
Who funds the IEA?
The Institute of Economic Affairs are notorious for being one of the least transparent think tanks in the EU when it comes to funding. Taking a break from making comments such as 'all doctors are communists', the IEA's Head of Health and Welfare has made it very clear on Twitter that he won't be disclosing who funds them (though it's possible he doesn't know where the millions are coming from).
What we do know is that the IEA has taken tens of thousands of pounds from big tobacco firms and has issued position statements against public health measures on tobacco such as plain packaging and taxation. The IEA also accepts funding from the US through the 'American Friends of the IEA', which exists solely to funnel money to the IEA in London.
What do the IEA want?
IEA publications make it clear that they want an insurance-based healthcare system in the UK, and that they want this to be open to private insurance firms. They want to see local health boards turned into competing national franchises. They want hospitals to be paid exclusively by these franchises for work done, and for hospitals to be forced into bankruptcy rather than receive financial support from central government. They want to see tax refunds in return for co-payments.
This sounds very much like the US-style Accountable Care system being pushed by Jeremy Hunt and NHS England, which Stephen Hawking, Allyson Pollock and colleagues are currently fighting via legal action. But the IEA don't like to refer to their aims in terms of the bloated, inefficient, non-universal US system. Instead they prefer to reference other pluralistic healthcare systems, many of which spend more per capita on healthcare than the NHS. For instance, if the NHS was funded to the same level as the expensive Dutch system often favoured by the IEA, then the NHS would receive perhaps as much as £40bn more per year in funding.
So what actually is the Institute of Economic Affairs?
The IEA is a right-wing organisation which receives funding from big multinationals and pursues a privatisation agenda.