In the January 2003 issue of Health Insurance Patrick Collinson scathingly asks what providents like Bupa are for. Answering his own question, he suggests that they might exist solely for the benefit of their staff and board, whilst their lack of accountability to members or shareholders makes them an anachronism.
In expressing such views he reveals a psyche conditioned by the Thatcherite marketisation referred to in his first paragraph, modified by the Blairite view that anything invented before 1997 is a useless relic awaiting “modernisation”.
It is a sad indictment of our society that an informed commentator cannot actually conceive of an organisation which regards its reason for existence as serving customers.
When WPA expressed this view in the article the company was not mentioned again at all and the rest of the text dealt with Bupa, although the impression was given that the constitutional criticisms levied at Bupa also applied to the rest of the sector.
As for the importance attached to the controlling powers of shareholders, perhaps on reflection Mr Collinson might consider that a prime motivation of companies limited by shares is the need to fend off hostile takeovers by keeping their share price healthy and dividends generous.
The needs of shareholders and customers often conflict, with directors favouring the former. This distraction does not exist for providents, whose duty and allegiance is entirely and exclusively to their customers.
Michael Gilbert, chief executive at Provincial Hospital Services Association