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.
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