Monday, 12 March 2012

Liberal Democrat acivists have guts after all.

I didn't go to Gateshead as I have a small part (actually three small parts) in a play that was running over the weekend and I thought that would be more fun. On Saturday I was dismayed that the conference had voted, albeit by second preferences, to debate the "accept" motion on the NHS rather than the "reject" motion. Another victory for the party managers. I was delighted therefore when the managers were thwarted and the "reject" motion was carried by a significant majority.

Clearly I didn't hear the debate, and I haven't got the terms of the bill in front of me, but it does strike me that the so-called improvements obtained by the Liberal Democrats in parliament are mostly weasel words. One that springs to mind is that there shall be no privatisation that is "not in the interest of patients." Surely everything the NHS does is, or ought to be, in the interests of patients. Another is that a Trust can't increase its private operations (up to 49%, would you believe) without the permission of its board, which would be or could easily be packed with sycophants sympathetic to the profit orientated medical industries.

It will be interesting to see how the parliamentary parties get themselves out of the dilemma. Breaking up the coalition should not, in my view, be top of the agenda. It would be bad long-term policy to abandon the important gain of a fixed-term parliament, and reform of the second chamber is still on the cards, not to mention the importance of preserving human rights and civil liberties and maintaining a more realistic, even idealistic, attitude toward the EU. Thoughts of an immediate election with he NHS as the main issue and the Liberal Democrats seen as heroes are a chimera. Elections are rarely won or lost on the issue with which they began, as Edward Heath discovered in 1974.

I don't personally see further amendments to the bill as being satisfactory. They may save some of the Tory face, but the public and medical professions clearly see the main purpose of the bill as to open up the vast funds devoted to the NHS to private profit-making enterprises, who are clearly straining at the leash to get their hands on them. A better outcome would be for the bill to be abandoned and, to save the Tory face, the whole issue placed, without gloating on any side, in the hands of a Royal Commission.

Let's hope our top negotiators are clever enough to achieve this sensible outcome.


  1. "The public and medical professions clearly see the main purpose of the bill as to open up the vast funds devoted to the NHS to private profit-making enterprises"

    I take it you're not familiar with the Act passed in 2006 then? A lot more scary in the above regard, and actually partially repealed by the current health bill.

    Like many of the bills' opponents you don't understand the detail of the bill, nor that there are actually good things in it that simply dropping the bill won't achieve . . . ho hum.

  2. I do not pretend to be an expert or even to have detailed knowledge of the bill, but I do find Polly Toynbee's article in last Tuesday's Guardian (13th March) and the letters on the following day very convincing.
    There has always been a private sector in the NHS (eg the pay-beds and the pharmaceutical industry) but, according to Toynbee, Labour's Act limited further privatisation to "a proportion not exceeding that of 2003, which was an average of 2%." That's very different to 49%, which Toynbee re-affirms, in spite of Shirley Williams's denial (and there has yet been no response from Williams to the Toynbee refutation.)

    Also in the Guardian on the 13th George Monbiot points out that the Chair and Chief Executive of Monitor is a former partner in McKinsey's, which specialises in advising on privatisations, and five other members have similar backgrounds. There are no members representing patient groups.

    I stand by the assertion that private sector profiteers are straining to get their hands on the vast funds devoted to the NHS. For what it is worth I have written to urge support for the amendment to be put forward by, among others, two Yorkshire Liberal Democrat MPs, Greg Mullholland and David Ward, that, effectively, the bill be dropped.