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Where’s Labour in the battle to save the NHS

It’s all very well for Nick Clegg regaling us each day with what he’s going to do to Lansley and the NHS Bill if his amendments to it aren’t accepted by the Tories. And now we learn what the Tory backwoodsmen are going to do if their ‘red lines’ are not accepted by Clegg. But where’s Labour in all this? We should all be grateful that Clegg – thanks to the electorate’s dumping him on 5 May – is now (at last) sticking his oar in over Lansley’s assault on the NHS. But the fact is, Clegg’s position, flip-flopping all over the place on the NHS as on every other issue, isn’t ours. His aim is to find a formula, if there is one, to keep his own party intact whilst staying (just) inside the Coalition. Ours is a principled rejection of the whole Bill.

Clegg’s floundering has finally arrived at four adjustments to the Tory bill. The membership of the new GP consortia should be opened up to Councillors and other health personnel, the 2013 deadline should be extended, the opening up of all NHS services to “any qualified provider” (originally “any willing provider”) should not suddenly be introduced, and the health regulator Monitor should not ‘push competition’. All of those are of course welcome mitigations of the pure marketisation model inherent in the Lansley bill, but they are merely ameliorations of a fundamentally wrecking bill.

The voice missing from this debate is Labour’s. Our position is that we want a wholly public service, not a privatised service where the NHS survives only as a kitemark. We want a health service that is not crippled by £20b cuts over a 4-year period which no other health service in the West has had imposed on it in such a timetable. We want a health service that takes only 8% of GDP, absorbing almost the lowest share of national income of any comparable health system in the Western world, to be protected from closures, service cutbacks, job losses and deteriorating patient care. Cameron promised no real terms cuts, and has reneged on it. Labour would deliver it because we are not trying to shrink the state, we are not seeking to pare back all public services, and we would not pursue a massive cuts strategy as the means to reduce the deficit.

So why don’t we commit ourselves to this position and say so loud and clear, not least when all the leaders of medicine – the RCP, RCS, RCGP and the BMA – are all on side and when the public is crying out for an unambiguous and principled repudiation of the Lansley Bill? Ed Miliband calls for a ‘national mission’: this would be a perfect place to start.


  1. Note that nothing has been said about the damaging deadline of 2014 for all hospitals to be FTs. It is estimated that 22 trusts will not make this deadline and since NHS Trust status will be abolished on April 2014 that means these hospital trusts will cease to exist. Very few people are talking about this, why? Hospitals are an emotive issue. Closing a hospital is a political issue. The Tories want to close – or privatise – 22 hospital trusts. Why isn’t labour making an issue of this? Why isn’t Labour campaigning in those constituencies?

    This bill will remove huge swathes of accountability from the service. The Tories want this (they do not want a system where businesses are accountable) and yet the holier-than-thou LibDems are very quiet about this. Why? Getting councillors on GP consortia boards is not accountability (to be frank, someone elected to make sure that the bins are collected regularly is not qualified to make a healthcare rationing decision). If we are going to have GP consortia then we need directly elected members so that people with healthcare experience can be our representatives. We also need to make sure that any private company contracted by the NHS is open to FoI requests and the decisions made about their NHS business is made in public.

    I was amazed that Labour did to campaign on the NHS at the local elections. The Bill will had public health to local authorities and create Health and Wellbeing Boards as part of local authorities (and the LibDems want councillors to be on consortia boards) so the people being elected two weeks ago would have a significant effect on healthcare in the future. Labour should have campaigned on the fact that healthcare is better under labour. They didn’t. Are the Health team completely clueless?

    The final issue is more important: the patient. Labour must put the patient first in all of its attacks on the government. By pointing out how the Tories are cutting the number of cataract and hip operations (see my False Economy blog for details) Labour can show how the Tories are not only bad for the NHS, but also bad for patients. For the patients’ sake, we need to get rid of this government.

  2. Duncan says:

    The problem for Labour is that this Bill pretty much picks up where they left off with NHS reforms. Key measures such as handing over control of budgets to GP’s began as pilot schemes under the last government.

  3. In today’s Daily Telegraph, Andrew Lansley professes himself open to “substantial alterations” to his barking mad Blairite scheme to dismantle the NHS in England, while today’s Daily Mail front page denounces both private equity and the privatisation of care services (in fact, like so many of these things, merely the issuing of the nastiest of private companies with licenses to print public money).

    When will there be a political party to give voice to the opinion of most Telegraph and Mail readers, of most habitual Tory voters, and of most Tory councillors and activists, out here in the country at large? Previously confined to Neil Clark’s column on the Morning Star, as of today it is apparently the editorial position of the Daily Mail. That newspaper might start campaigning against Loony Right councils, as once it campaigned against Loony Left ones. It could start with Birmingham, which is outsourcing municipal jobs to India.

    There are those who, since even the forced nationalisation of several leading banks could not convince them, are certainly not going to be convinced by the nationalisation of a network of care homes whose bills are already paid by the council. But even so, how much longer is the swivel-eyed privatisation, globalisation, worker-bashing and war-mongering of the lost generation that began with the death of John Smith going to be presented as “the centre ground”?

    Ed Miliband, over to you.

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