Signs of Panic on the Front Bench

In a last ditch attempt to head off opposition to the Lansley plan for the break up of the NHS Nick Clegg has written to every Liberal Democrat in Parliament. For weeks ministers have been telling us that the Health Bill is now fixed; that all the problem bits have been amended. Now they admit that it is not quite right, there are still problems and it still needs more amending.

For months ministers have been telling us that this Bill is necessary. Without it, they say, the NHS will face severe financial pressures from the fact that we are all getting older and that new expensive treatments are becoming available for cancer. So how will it solve that? It will not produce a system that is cheaper to run. There will be more contracts, more committees and more Quangos. No, it will cost more to run. The most reliable estimate is that it will cost £3bn to introduce Lansley’s plan. In addition money will be taken out of the NHS to pay dividends to private companies including some highly suspect companies from the US. So how will Lansley’s plan stop the NHS going bankrupt? Is it going to cure cancer? Will it stop us getting old? No, it will simply deny patients the treatment they need. Already we are seeing GPs being put under pressure not to refer patients who have conditions that are treatable and which should be treated to avoid future complications. If Lansley’s Bill goes through this will get worse.

Nick Clegg’s letter points out that there have already been over 1,000 amendments to this, the longest bill in the history of the NHS. Unfortunately those amendments do not address the underlying problems in the Bill. It is like trying to plug the hole in the side of the Costa Concordia with sticking plaster. It cannot be done.

Would you like to save £1bn, Mr Chancellor?

The Bill can be stopped now. If the Bill is dropped now Prof Kieron Walshe estimates that the NHS will save £1bn in the next twelve months because all the expensive bureaucracy needed to implement Lansley’s plans will not be needed. A discussion paper has been prepared by a leading Liberal Democrat which outlines a way of incorporating the changes that have already happened in a less bureaucratic, more democratic and more equitable service. It can be done.

The fight for the NHS returns to the Lib Dem conference.

On March 9 Liberal Democrats meet for their Spring Conference. It was at the Spring Conference last year that we told ministers that they were wrong about their health proposals and they must think again. Liberal Democrats pride themselves in being the most democratic of political parties. Party policy is determined by the members, and that is what we saw last spring. We shall be taking an Emergency Motion to conference this year to give delegates an opportunity to pass their verdict on the Health Bill. If you are a member of the Liberal Democrats contact your voting delegates now. We need your support. We think that the NHS is worth fighting for.

If you have not signed these petitions please do so now.

For Lib Dem members only

For every citizen in the UK.

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6 Responses to Signs of Panic on the Front Bench

  1. Colin says:

    I agree with every word you say – nice to see you on TV last night!

  2. Teresa says:

    Charles, as a fellow Shropshire GP I agree completely with your worries about the bill. I do not know of one GP in this part of the world who supports the bill. When Cameron stands up at PMQs and says that we are already embracing the changes I want to scream. The bill hasn’t been passed and yet change is being bulldozered through and we GPs on the ground have no choice but comply – as a wise person said “just because we are in the lifeboat doesn’t mean we support the sinking of the ship”.
    I do not however trust Nick Clegg on this at all and hope MPs and grass-root LibDems can influence him.

  3. Roger Sibley says:

    At last I have heard a Liberal Democrat speak who understands that the NHS will be quickly destroyed if this appalling NHS Bill receives Royal Assent. Your interview on Radio 4 Today was a shaft of light that ought to wake up Liberal Democrat MPs to the great betrayal of the NHS and the British people that this Bill represents.

    Liberal Democrat MP’s and Peers must heed your warning that the Bill is a one way street to privatised services with no way back no matter how badly things go wrong. The fragmentation into semi autonomous commissioning groups contracting with private providers who are outside the NHS, is certain to lead to money being siphoned out of patient care into private bank accounts. This will get worse and worse as competition laws and high costs deliver these local groups into the clutches of large healthcare groups.

    You also rightly highlighted the immense danger that integrated healthcare will disappear as individual services are contracted out to commercial organisations who will provide no medical services or treatment outside of their contractual obligations.

    This Bill is not about patient choice, or even patient care. It is about competition from private healthcare providers, supposedly leading to cost cutting with more choice for patients. After the initial introductory offers to lure the unwary purchasers, the reality will be a lot of extra costs in the time consuming commissioning process, with money draining away from patient care into investor’s bank accounts.

    All this will get worse and worse over time as the ‘partners’ learn how to game the system for their own gain. It will turn out to be a contractual nightmare, far more expensive and a bigger disaster than Railtrack.

    The only way this extremely expensive total reorganisation and market driven contracting can possibly save money is by restricting treatment and cutting out a wide range of services or making many of them chargeable. Patient care will end up being rationed or cut by “local” spreadsheet.

    As for patient choice, it is clear this Bill intends to inject a lot more private beds and treatment into what will be by then a fake National Health Service, and it is these paying patients who will get the choice of treatments and surgeons, leaving the rest of the population to wait and make do with what is left over.

    The joint NHS statement by Nick Clegg and Shirley Williams is utterly unconvincing in implying that the amendments tabled will protect the NHS from the predatory private health providers who are backed by large investors and the same unprincipled financial advisers and players who have corrupted and ruined much of the global banking system.

    It is ludicrous to portray the weak and limited amendments as giving adequate protection to the NHS or patients from the forces of private healthcare that are are poised to make money by providing limited services with no on site back up for when things go wrong.

    The survival of the NHS is what matters, not Nick Clegg – he is condemned by his poor judgement in supporting this Bill that is completely anti phase with what voters believed was the Liberal Democrats’ committed support to maintaining the NHS as a full healthcare service, trusted to deliver a high standard of universal care where patients are not customers, and health services are not businesses with finance driven agendas.

    Even the phrase “free at the point of delivery” has menacing overtones of payments being required before (Health Insurance) or afterwards ( like Tuition Fee Loans)

    This Bill must not stand. If it gets Royal Assent the NHS is doomed and no Liberal Democrat politician will ever be trusted again.

    In 2011 I left the Liberal Democrat Party after 30 years as a supporter and member. I will only consider rejoining when the Party regains its principles under a new trustworthy Leader who has conviction, sound judgement and who is not given to empty words.

    • Charles West says:

      Thank you Roger.
      I fervently hope that we shall have good news for you from Gateshead.
      If we don’t I think that you will be joined by further resignations. (I’ve heard of two more today).

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