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The NHS bill descends from tragedy into farce

The handling of the NHS and Social Care Bill, which returns to the Commons today, must be the most cynical, manipulative and dishonest of any bill in modern times. It was sprung on an unsuspecting nation after an election in which no mention was made of it in any manifesto and an air-brushed Cameron ad had assured the country “I will cut the deficit, not the NHS”. There has been no Commission of Inquiry to examine its philosophy or ideology in depth. There is no proposal to pilot it before it is imposed full-scale on the health service.

The committee stage of the bill was rammed through with hardly a dot or comma changed. After the ‘pause’ enforced by public and medical opposition, the altered bill is not being returned to the Committee to consider the changes. There are now 1,000 amendments to it, to be debated in 12 hours. And to cap it all, the Dorries-Field amendment on abortion counselling will probably absorb 2-3 hours even of this miserably truncated period for scrutiny. Clearly several hundred amendments will never even be reached. Can any bill be handled worse?

The ignominy doesn’t even stop there. The Tory MP with perhaps more extensive knowledge of the NHS than any other in the House, Sarah Wollaston, was kept off the bill committee by her own Whips because she wanted to move some amendments to improve the bill. The bill was drafted when expenditure on health was still rising fast, and the biggest financial famine in the history of the NHS now makes this the most inappropriate time imaginable to introduce such a monstrous re-disorganisation of Britain’s health structure.

It gets worse. We now learn from emails leaked at the last minute that some 10-20 hospitals are already earmarked to be handed over to the big German corporate outfit Helios – and how many others are already in the pipeline but they haven’t yet been disclosed? This Coalition has already sacrificed the Thameslink train project to the German company Siemens, and now the NHS crown jewels are to follow to another Germany company. EU competition law or not, would France or Germany conceivably sell off the foundations of their health services to foreigners?

Now the former chief executive of the NHS has just announced that the next aim is to close hospitals. Waiting lists are already mounting up, and new conflicts of interest are already appearing. From a dishonest and mendacious government that promised to protect and defend the NHS, this bill is surely the ultimate scam.

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