May 012012
NHS logo

NHS logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the current carve-up of the NHS into regional monopolies run by private companies, some of whom are already notorious for not providing an acceptable level of public service elsewhere, here’s the final email reply on the subject that I received from a LibDem.

Re: Health and Social Care Bill

Thank you for getting in touch about this important issue. I care passionately about the NHS. I and my family depend on it like everyone else. I am committed to protecting the fundamental principle that underpins it: that care is available to all and free at the point of use. However, the health service cannot stand still if we are to protect it for the future – not least because of our ageing population and the cost of new technologies.

I spent three years as the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, and spoke out publicly about my serious concerns about the Bill in April last year. Since then, thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the Bill has been substantially improved: the Secretary of State remains ultimately accountable for the NHS, and there are safeguards against competition on price, safeguards against cherry picking, and safeguards against the special favours to the private sector that were rife under the last Labour Government. The new NHS regulator, Monitor, will have as its number one priority protecting patients’ interests rather than promoting competition.

At Liberal Democrat conference last weekend the party made it clear that the work on improving this Bill needs to continue, but also that the NHS cannot stand still.

The NHS is facing the twin challenges of an ageing population and ever-increasing costs of treatment. To protect the NHS for the future, it is vital that we make changes to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, to deliver more care in our local communities and to better integrate health and social care.  By putting power in the hands of doctors and nurses the Bill aims to do just that.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely,

Norman Lamb

Member of Parliament for North Norfolk

I am unsure how the privatisation of the NHS puts “power in the hands of doctors and nurses” in any way at all. Perhaps the Hon. Member for North Norfolk would care to elucidate further, taking into account current events? I would also be extremely interested in an explanation as to why the Bill was made law with such indecent haste and how the astounding achievement of evaluating the franchise for Surrey, putting out tenders – you did call for tenders, didn’t you boys? – receiving and reviewing the submissions, followed by negotiating and signing the final contract were all completed in the space of two weeks.

Like Hamlet’s mother’s second marriage, it followed hard upon the sad event that made it possible. It does not make the Cameron/Clegg government look any more honest than the Claudius/Gertrude monarchy. In fact, Gertrude had the excuse of being blinded by love, whereas it looks increasingly as though Clegg and his cronies are blinded only by their desire to exercise a crumb of political power, however briefly.

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anarchic teapot

Site owner. Opinionated bugger. Qualified accountant, IT bod and French-English translator. I swear a lot.
anarchic teapot has written 65 posts on this blog.
  • Stranded

    Normally a big fan of yours, but this is complete rubbish.

    The Health and Social Care Bill took two full years to pass – it had more time in Committee in the Commons than ANY legislation in the last 10 years, and received over 1,000 amendments. To suggest it was passed with ‘undue haste’ is idiotic.

    As to the claims about privatisation…they’re nonsensical. The reason tenders were completed within two weeks of the Bill being passed is because they had absolutely nothing to do with the Bill. It has been illegal to prefer an NHS provider above a better offer from a different organisation (charity or private provider) for some years.

    Whatever your thoughts on the NHS reforms, they do not introduce privdate providers into the NHS, as Labour’s former health spad will tell you

    What’s so wrong with patients being the ones who choose which provider they use? If it costs the same (which the Act insists it will), how is it a problem?

    • anarchic teapot

      Perhaps I should clarify (I really must stop blogging at 2 a.m.) that the “indecent haste” refers to the bill being pushed through in spite of the legal requirement to publish the risk register and the three-line whipping of both MPs and peers, espite a number of concerns raised at the Lib Dem conference shortly before.

      Whatever the merits of the bill, I find this behaviour suspicious, just as I find the complete rejection of the views of the medical community – who were overwhelmingly against the bill – politically inept at best.

      Since the franchising of county-wide community services in Surrey to Virgin Healthcare ( followed hard upon the passing of the Act, it is hard not to see the hand of big business somewhere.

      I have no problem with patients having a choice of provider. I live in a country where this is exactly the case: private clinics and State-run hospitals coexist and provide useful complementary services. However, when all the community services in a particular sector are run by the same company, I cannot see where there is a choice.

      • Stranded

        A couple of points:

        1. Re the risk register – it’s standard for Governments to produce an Impact Assessment, which contains the risks faced by the bill. It is completely unprecedented to publish a risk register which states, in worst case scenario terms, every conceivable problem, however remote. It would be used for political purposes, which is precisely why John Healey (the former Shadow Health Sec asked for it). Also, publishing those kind of details really does inhibit the advice Ministers get – that’s why all previous Governments (of all parties) have rejected releasing them in the past. [As an aside, Andy Burnham rejected releasing a risk register for that exact reason only in 2009].

        2. Re three-line whipping – whatever problems there are with our Parliamentary system (and I accept there are a number), I don’t see anything wrong with whipping MPs to vote on something that WAS (contrary to received wisdom) in the Coalition Agreement and Manifesto. For the Tories, see page 45 onwards here:

        3. As to rejections of views of medical community, the BMA voted against the creation of the NHS itself. As with all professions, unions have a lot of power and don’t like that being taken away. Giving patients more choice has always been a huge problem for the BMA, which is why they’ve opposed every reform since the purchaser-provider split 20 years ago. Fair enough if you don’t support patient choice and want them to get what they’re given and like it. But if you want to change that, you have to ruffle some feathers.

        And 4.  The Act expressly prohibits private providers (or indeed any provider) from being treated preferentially. And it sets up a healthcare specific regulator to make sure this happens, and that there isn’t anti-competitive behaviour against patients’ interests. Also, it’s worth noting that in England, 95% of healthcare is carried out by the NHS. They really have nothing to fear from these companies, which have nowhere near the same ability to offer services.

        Love the blog generally, especially the brilliant post on Mr Saunders. Just get irritated by untruths on health reform being repeated at length.

        • anarchic teapot

          Thanks for your kind comments, and I do appreciate your contributions. I hate talking to myself; it makes me feel a far bigger idiot than when someone points out errors in my blog.

          I think we may be talking a bit at cross purposes here, although I’m too tired to go on at length about that. I think you’ve missed some of my points (see the post about Branson for my position on public and private services)and I’m probably missing some of yours. For the record, I agree that the NHS needed reform. Just not like this, and certainly not done in a way seemingly calculated to put everybody’s backs up.

          PS Peter Saunders is in line for another smacking soon, probably by Jay, who goes on at length about GD given the slightest chance.